BWW Review: Hershey Theatre Is Alive With THE SOUND OF MUSIC
THE SOUND OF MUSIC has at this point all the advantages and disadvantages of being a chestnut: on the one hand, it's a cultural frame of reference, people will take the children and grandchildren to see it, it has important historical references, and you know all the words to every song. On the other hand, those aren't Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer on stage, the play is somewhat different at points from the movie as you remember it, and you may have seen one too many high school productions of it to feel up to appreciating yet another production.
It's a good thing that the production of Richard Rodgers' and Oscar Hammerstein's THE SOUND OF MUSIC currently at Hershey Theatre is packed with Equity Broadway veterans and top-notch national performers who can help scrub some of those too many previous productions of the show from your mind. It alleviates many of the drawbacks to the show. Jack O'Brien, the tour's director, is a Broadway veteran himself with some recent, innovative shows to his name.
The single largest issue in any production of this show is the elephant in the living room, Julie Andrews, star of the film (Mary Martin starred on Broadway), whose voice is indelibly ingrained in every adult audience member's mind, especially those who attend singalong film viewings. No other Maria is going to be Julie Andrews - wisely, Charlotte Maltby doesn't try to be Andrews. She's not nearly so innocent as Andrews' Maria, though she's not yet jaded and still isn't comfortable with the idea of... that sort of thing; she's the young music nerd who joined the convent for the singing. She's a bit more clever than Andrews' Maria as well, eavesdropping on the Liesl/Rolf romance, cautiously spying on Teri Hansen's Elsa Schrader even without viewing her as competition, simply because Schrader dislikes children, and pulling off the children's curtain-fabric play outfits more as a rebuke to Captain von Trapp than in innocence. She's a fine actor, and a capable singer, though her voice seems, at some moments, a bit thin, slightly shrill.
There's no baggage that comes with the Mother Superior's role, however, but there may be after one hears Melody Betts, a Chicago theatre veteran, belting her parts in "My Favorite Things" (yes, in the stage version, the Mother Superior has always sung in this; the film version changed it) and "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," the latter of which will make much of the audience run out for Timberlines and carabiners on the spot. Betts brings enough of her own energy to run all the lights on the stage, and the lobby as well, and she may look slightly familiar to audience members who watch any of the current television dramas set in Chicago. Equally impressive is Merwin Foard, longtime Broadway veteran, as the loquacious, smarmy Max, whose moral compass unpinned itself from its base a long time ago. He and Hansen's Schrader are a pleasure to watch together in action, conspiring to marry her to Captain von Trapp.
Oh, yes. Captain Georg von Trapp. Here he's played by Nicholas Rodriguez, himself a Broadway veteran, whose vocal skills are impressive. Rodriguez isn't the sternest Captain von Trapp; you can tell right away that as soon as Maria's through with showing off her work with the children, he'll immediately buckle to her new household regime with the children, though not to the new political regime. He's perhaps just a touch too easily moved in personal matters by Maria to be so strongly protective of his backbone in professional matters; it doesn't help that the play simply shows him as anti-Nazi, and Schrader and Max as ambiguously pro-Nazi (until you discover Max's real job), without really touching on why, other than Austrian nationalism, von Trapp loathes Nazis.
This is not an uncomplicated show, either in plot or in acting demands, and in these political times it seems more relevant than ever; if you recall it as a nice show about a nun-turned-nanny and her adorable charges, you don't recall it. Do you agree with a government, do you dislike it but go along to get along (or to get ahead), or do you resist, and, if so, how? How much are you prepared to give up to fight back? When you're not a minority and merely a politically involved person who's not clearly affected by certain issues, do you take a stand? (THE SOUND OF MUSIC is noteworthy for addressing Nazism without ever touching on the Holocaust.) For the von Trapps and the nuns at the local convent, that the Nazis must be avoided is a philosophical and moral given; for Schrader and Max, that the Nazis must be made to feel that you are friendly is considered a survival technique. Max doesn't care who's in charge as long as they're not focusing on him. But great theatre is built not just on great stories but on huge issues, and they don't come much bigger than this.
If you have friends who have never seen the show, this is an ideal production for them. It's wisely toned down the clear sexism of the original production, and it's intelligently planned for exacting relevance, while allowing the audience to sing along, as can't be avoided with this show, while they're at it. Aside from everything mentioned and everything else, the children in the production do a splendid "So Long, Farewell" and "Edelweiss."
At Hershey Theatre through March 26. Visit hersheytheatre.com for tickets and information.