Tuesday, April 23, 2024

"The Sound of Music" at Artistry

The Sound of Music is a particular favorite of mine, having grown up watching and loving the movie, playing clarinet in the pit orchestra of my high school production, and studying abroad in wundersch√∂ne Salzburg almost 30 years ago. It's been over eight years since we've had a professional #TCTheater production of it, so seeing it at Artistry in Bloomington is a thrill. They've assembled a fantastic cast of #TCTheater favorites and some precocious children, with a simply lovely design, and Raymond Berg leading a 13-piece onstage orchestra on this beloved score. And the result is every bit as warm, comforting, familiar, and delightful as it should be. It continues through May 12, but I'm not the only one with a built-in love for this show, so it's already selling out. Don't wait to long too get your tickets to Salzburg!

If you've only seen the movie, you may be a bit startled by some differences in the original stage version, with songs appearing in different scenes than expected. Filming the movie in Salzburg allowed them to open up and expand the story a bit. But this version is somewhat of a hybrid, with the two songs written for the movie "I Have Confidence" and "Something Good," and also includes Max and Elsa "How Can Love Survive" (because when you cast Phinehas Bynum and Stephanie Cousins, you want them to sing!).

Maria (Sheena Janson Kelley) and the children
(photo by Dan Norman)
Multi-talented #TCTheater artist Max Wojtanowicz directs the piece and stays true to the original that we all love. The story flows nicely from scene to scene (the aforementioned added "I Have Confidence" is a particularly nice transition, with choreography by Gabrielle Dominique), and the love of the family for each other and for music is on clear display. Sheena Janson Kelley is a lovely, strong, and at times charmingly awkward Maria. She doesn't sing as high as Julie Andrews so some of the songs have been adapted for her voice, in the most beautiful way. "Dreamy" is a word I often use to describe Christopher Plummer's Georg von Trapp, and Rodolfo Nieto anytime I see him on stage, so his casting feels very appropriate. His deep resonant voice and stern demeanor suit the Captain well, his "Edelweiss" gorgeous and moving. The two create a believable insta-romance.

the von Trapp family singers (Rodolfo Nieto and cast)
(photo by Dan Norman)
The large and talented ensemble includes too many favorites to mention, some of whom with only bit parts. Highlights include the choir of nuns who sound amazing on the stunning harmonies of the religious chants, led by Susan Hofflander as the Reverend Mother, and the seven adorable children, from the oldest (Junia Morrow as a strong and sympathetic Liesl) to the youngest (3rd grader Matea Cordova Stuart as Gretl, born for the stage).

Katie Phillips' scenic design and Karin Olson's lighting design combine to evoke feelings of the mountains, with set pieces kept to a minimum. The frame of the convent windows or the von Trapp mansion's grand doorway are enough to set the scene, and the multi-level stage can be the hills or the drawing room. The 13-piece orchestra sits onstage silhouetted against the mountains, and Raymond Berg (who also Music Directed the Ordway's production) brings out all of the nuances of Rodgers and Hammerstein's wonderful score. The costumes (designed by Nat Koch-Smith) are nice, but I do wish there were more of the Austrian touches, those muted greys and greens (see below).

Even in the warm and familiar context of this musical, seeing Nazi symbology is disturbing, as it should be. Hearing Max say "what's going to happen is going to happen, just make sure it doesn't happen to you" is frightening, because this is exactly the attitude that allowed Hitler to come to power in 1930s Germany. And it's eerily familiar in today's world where certain political candidates are preaching fear, exclusion, and divisiveness. While The Sound of Music doesn't convey the impending horror that was 1930s Germany as well as, say, Cabaret, it's enough to give one pause.*

But that's enough of the serious stuff, this a MUsical! A musical in which a distant father becomes a warm and loving dad in the space of a song, a couple falls in love during a dance, engagements are made or broken in an instant, the bad guys are clearly identified by the "black spider" on their arms, and climbing a mountain outside of Salzburg lands you in Switzerland rather than Germany (who cares about geography in a musical?). And that's why we love it, for the optimistic feel-good triumph of good over evil, love over fear, and music over everything. If only life were that simple.*

in my authentic Austrian jacket that I bought at a
flea market in Salzburg nearly 30 years ago