Friday, November 11, 2016

"The Sound of Music"


The Sound of Music
Richard Rodgers (Music) & Oscar Hammerstein II (Lyrics)
Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse (Book)


Kerstin Anderson as 'Maria Rainer' and the von Trapp Children:  Iris Davies (Brigitta), Anika Lore Hatch (Gretl), Austin Levine (Kurt), Kyla Carter (Marta), Ashley Brooke (Louisa), Roy Gantz (Friedrich), Paige Silvester (Liesl)
For many in the San Jose audience, unease, shock, disillusionment, and even fear were their states of mind and psyche as they entered the Center for the Performing Arts less than twenty-four hours after the surprising presidential election results had become clear.  But it did not take long for an old friend -- a trusted friend -- to help them forget their present worries and instead to focus on a story full of songs that most know every word and note by heart.  What better time for The Sound of Music to make its way into as a part of the current Broadway San Jose season.  Certainly for many in the audience, this final collaboration between Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (lyrics) is as familiar as “do re me” and is at the top of their list of “my favorite things.”

 But for all those who mostly grew up watching time and again Julie Andrews in the 1965 film version, many pleasant surprises are in store as they watch unfold before them the story of the nun postulant, Maria Rainer, who becomes nanny and ultimately mother of the seven von Trapp children.  Songs appear in a different order, often sung by different people, in the stage version that took Broadway and ultimately the world by storm in 1959.  There appears a couple of songs that most will not recognize: “How Can Love Survive” and “No Way to Stop It,” both featuring Captain von Trapp’s aristocratic fiancé, Elsa (Teri Hansen), and his funny and free-loading friend, Max (Merwin Foard).  Missing on the stage from the film version is Maria’s “I Have Confidence,” but this newest touring version has included the Maria/Captain duet “Something Good” that was not in the original stage musical but was a part of the 1965 film.

Kerstin Anderson
But maybe the best difference in this latest touring version is Maria herself.  The director Jack O’Brien searched the nation, auditioning hundreds of potential Marias before settling on a current student at New York’s Pace University, Kerstin Anderson.  This Maria is barely older in appearance or attributes than the oldest von Trapp daughter, Liesl, rather than the more mature version of Julie Andrews, Mary Martin, or the typical scores who have followed them on stages everywhere.  Ms. Anderson is a bit awkward and clumsy; sometimes over-the-top enthusiastic; quick to humble in embarrassment, and a lot wide-eyed, fearless, and physically rambunctious in ways that are delightful, refreshing, and energizing.  There is a sense of being still a kid herself, especially in the beginning of the play; and even as she falls in love with the Captain, it really feels as if this is a teenager at heart falling head over heels for the first time.

But most importantly, this Maria can sing.  Wow, can she sing!  As soon as the much-anticipated, first notes of the musical’s title song spring forth, we hear a voice as clear and crisp as the mountain air where she has escaped the abbey for an afternoon’s hike.  As she proceeds to romp one by one through audience favorites like “Do, Re, Me,” “My Favorite Things,” or “The Lonely Goatherd” (often accompanied by others like one or all of the children or the Mother Abbess), Ms. Anderson sings with effervescence, with a feeling of spontaneity, and with an electric energy that sparkles but never over-shocks.  She also jumps, rolls, dances, and slides all over the stage with contagious happiness and zest for life; but she always has both feet solid on the ground when the moment calls for a maturity and sagacity many her age and big-stage experience might not yet be able to garner. 

And everywhere around her on the stage -- from the youngest cast member (six-year-old Anika Lore Hatch as Gretl) to those much older -- are voices and personalities that equally excel and sell their cherished characters.  Melody Betts is particularly a standout as the Mother Abbess.  The statuesque posture, folded arms, and stern-face whose eyes betray with their softness of a loving and sympathetic heart brings the required dignity for the head of the nunnery.  However, this Mother Abbess stuns both Maria and the audience when she totally lets loose with girl-like delight as she recalls with Maria a childhood favorite song (“My Favorite Things”).  When later she sends away from the abbey a Maria scared to face the love she has for Captain von Trapp, her “Climb Every Mountain” begins with resonate reflection and parent-like advice in its tone, building to a climax that shakes the rafters with a delivery that is singular and unique but entirely captivating in sound.

Ben Davis
Excellent also in the ability to provide his individual flair to songs that we have heard other, more famous people sing over and over again is Ben Davis as Captain von Trapp.  His deep baritone moves hearts and brings tears when he reminds us of the courage it sometimes takes to face at all odds hate, xenophobia, and possible persecution as he sings the Austrian homeland folk song “Edelweiss” in the face of the German Nazi’s ready to cart him away.  But he also lets his earlier militaristic manner of naval whistles used to march his children before him to be inspected give way to a softer, gentler side that comes out in beautiful smoothness in a reprise with the children of “The Sound of Music” and that romances Maria in “Something Good” where his newly discovered love shines through in a powerful voice that never pushes but flows with palpable strength.

Paige Silvester & Austin Colby
With much fun in teasing and tempting each other, the teen about to become a woman, Liesl (Paige Silvester) and her desired-boyfriend (but soon to become a Nazi), Rolf (Austin Colby), triumph in “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” a number thoroughly enjoyable in both delivered vocals and choreography.  The coy manners they use to approach, back off, and then finally connect in a kiss are perfectly directed and enacted, all enhanced by singing voices that shudder and shimmer with the excitement of their young love.

  Whether popping up and down like jumping jacks in “Do, Re, Mi,” reenacting on Maria’s bed the story of “The Lonely Goatherd,” or forming a human cookoo clock while singing “So Long, Farewell,” these kids sing, dance, and act with full ebullience and excitement that can do nothing but bring full smiles to everyone watching.  Their voices individually ring with striking clarity that speaks of maturity beyond their years and yet also with the fun and freshness appropriate for each of their ages.



The von Trapp Children with Maria
Like the scenes we all remember from the Oscar-winning movie, every time the seven children take the stage, they pretty much steal the show.  Whether popping up and down like jumping jacks in “Do, Re, Mi,” reenacting on Maria’s bed the story of “The Lonely Goatherd,” or forming a human cookoo clock while singing “So Long, Farewell,” these kids sing, dance, and act with full ebullience and excitement that can do nothing but bring full smiles to everyone watching.  Their voices individually ring with striking clarity that speaks of maturity beyond their years and yet also with the fun and freshness appropriate for each of their ages.

The touring sets of Douglas W. Schmidt do the best they can to evoke the beauty and vastness of the background Alps, the solemn and holy serenity of the darkened abbey, and the light airiness of the von Trapp mansion with its high windows.  However, it is the lighting design of Natasha Katz that particularly is noteworthy with its glorious colors, subtle nuances, and scene-setting moods.  Jane Greenwood’s costumes also add much color, humor, time/geography definition, and beauty to the staging.  Jay Alger conducts everyone’s favorite score that is nobly, elegantly, and gleefully played by seventeen orchestra members.

By the way, if anyone regrets that a much-beloved song has come and gone too soon, then that person should take heart.  There are no less than eight reprises in this staged version -- some short, some the entire song again – which some patrons may welcome with eager applause but which others may find themselves looking mildly annoyed at their watches.

The story of a governess who arrives in a home of seven children; wins them over with her singing, spirit, and sincerity; discovers love with the widowed father to answer the question should she be a nun or not, and then escapes the invading Nazis with her new family from their native Austria – the story known so well by so many still never fails to thrill and inspire almost sixty years after its Great White Way premiere.  That is doubly true when an audience once again is rewarded with a Sound of Music so well-cast, superbly directed, and creatively produced as can now be seen at Broadway San Jose.

Rating: 4 E

The Sound of Music closes November 13, 2016 at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 South Almaden Boulevard, San Jose.  Tickets are available online at http://broadwaysanjose.com.

Photo Credit by Matthew Murphy

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