BWW Review: Vibrant New SOUND OF MUSIC Opens at the Ahmanson
Perhaps the best known musical of all time Rodgers' and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music has remained a family favorite since the 50s. Number one, the score is to die for; secondly, the book is dramatically fulfilling with a real life family being torn asunder by the ravages of fascism. Touches of real intertwined humor add to the appeal. Under the skillful eye and wisdom of director Jack O'Brien, the new North American touring production is now at the Ahmanson through October and proves thoroughly winning. I wouldn't say there's a totally fresh perspective, but somehow touches of real humanity and love stand out, and the entire ensemble is perfectly cast.
O'Brien claims in a program note that he "looked at the show with emotion, love and sex in mind." So for Rolf (Dan Tracy) his attraction to Captain von Trapp's oldest daughter Liesl (Paige Silvester) is more than mere infatuation. "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" is a warning of the big changes in store for both of them. Rolf does not take advantage of Liesl's vulnerability for he is aware of the price to be paid. Then there's the supposed love between Georg von Trapp (Ben Davis) and the wealthy Elsa Schraeder (Teri Hansen). Their union cannot survive as they look at Austria and the Nazi takeover in two completely different ways. She accepts it; he never will. Maria Rainer (Kerstin Anderson), a postulant nun at the Nonnberg Abbey, has been sent to the von Trapp family as a temporary governess to the seven von Trapp children. They desperately need her loving and nurturing ways; she, according to Mother Abbess (Ashley Brown), needs to see and experience more of the world before she can commit to life as a nun. Without realizing it, Maria falls in love with Georg, and he with her. Maria does not fully understand God's will until Mother Abbess explains to her that she can be married and still love God. The attraction between the wholesome Maria and the navy captain is electric and of course, they marry.
Most know the rest of the plot because of the 1965 hit movie with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, so I will not waste time retelling any more of the story. All I can say is that this new production is one of the finest I have seen in a long, long time. It soars with human touches and has a magnificent cast that win our hearts. Anderson fits the awkwardness and free spirit of Maria to a tee. She sings, moves and acts with a natural grace that is infectious. It is no wonder that the children and von Trapp adore her; so do we. Davis brings a human side to Georg that I have not seen since Plummer. Most portrayals of the captain are rigid and stodgy; not Davis' turn. He is totally likable. We can understand where he is coming from and how much he loves his country. "Edelweiss". Hansen is sophisticated, direct and pleasant as Elsa and Merwin Foard as Max Detweiler is sheer delight. Free, unencumbered, he essays the hell out of the role's humor. Brown as Mother Abbess is sensational. She is younger than what we are used to and from the moment she and Maria sing "My Favorite Things" at the top, we see a sibling-like bond between them. Older sister helping younger sister through experience and love.
As to the children, these youngsters under O'Brien's steady direction, make their characters as memorable as the originals. Liesl (Paige Silvester), Friedrich (Erich Schuett), Louisa (Maria Knasel), Kurt ( Quinn Erickson), Brigitta (Svea Johnson), Marta (Mackenzie Currie) and little Gretl (Audrey Bennett) all shine. They have great chemistry together and perform their songs with expert timing and precision.
Praise to the rest of the cast: Darren Matthias as butler Franz, Donna Garner as Frau Schmidt, and to Carey Rebecca Brown as Sister Berthe, Julia Osborne as Sister Margaretta and Elisabeth Evans as Sister Sophia, all delicious as they try to solve a problem like "Maria". It is great to see Brent Schindele, who has performed so many leads in LA musical productions, as the ruthless and controlling Nazi Herr Zeller.
Scenic designer Douglas W. Schmidt has created a lovely background of the Alps with flowing set pieces in front, which work efficiently for so many changes in locale. Jane Greenwood's costumes are spot.on as is Natasha Katz' lighting design. Kudos as well to choreographer Danny Mefford, who assuredly keeps the von Trapp children from missing a beat. And who can forget music supervisor Andy Einhorn who makes the orchestra sound so wonderful throughout.
Jack O'Brien's pacing is just terrific. I have never seen Act I so riveting and delightfully entertaining. It came in at 90 minutes, but seemed to go by in a flash. O'Brien maintains this flow throughout, keeping the joy alive. This Sound of Music is unforgettably humane and vibrant. Don't miss it!
(photo credit: Matthew Murphy)