BWW Reviews: OC's 3D Theatricals Revisits Classic THE SOUND OF MUSIC
There's no way around it. While watching 3D Theatricals' largely pleasing stage production of the enduring Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein II Broadway classic THE SOUND OF MUSIC—now playing at the Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton, CA through February 26—one can't help but be reminded of just how great the more popular, Oscar®-winning movie musical version truly is compared to its parental stage roots.
Though by its own merits, the stage version of THE SOUND OF MUSIC (first produced on Broadway in 1959) is itself a triumph of song, story and theatricality, all of which contributed significantly to its later, much more beloved 1965 film adaptation. But, unfortunately, the side-effect of seeing a fully-mounted stage production of that film's original theatrical source material is the revelation of its early story flaws, character underdevelopment, and even a few ignorable songs that seemed to have been miraculously excised or fixed in its celluloid reincarnation.
Luckily, 3D Theatricals' winsome, beautifully-staged revival manages to overcome the presence of these flaws even in its unenviable task of staying faithful to the original stage version's book and narrative flow—albeit with a few tweaks here and there. Buoyed by an invigorating, terrific cast, this smile-inducing, family-friendly show is still quite an entertaining, commendable production that all ages will find utterly beguiling. It's also the company's most charming production since their vigorous re-mounting of HELLO, DOLLY! a couple of seasons ago.
Based on Maria Augusta Trapp's memoirs that recount the true-life stories of the Trapp clan living in pre-WWII Salzburg, Austria, the musical's infamous story of Maria (the perfectly-cast Kim Huber), the ne'er-do-well nun-in-training who is tasked to be the live-in governess for the seven precocious children of the very stern, former Austro-Hungarian Naval Captain Georg Von Trapp (Tom Schmid) has become almost legendary. Feeling that she might be destined for something greater than what the Nonnberg Abbey can provide her, the wise Mother Abbess (the stirring Cynthia Marty) sends her away, to the singing celebration of her fellow nuns, who have found her to be quite a "problem."
As expected in such stories, not only does the spirited Maria bring joy and music back into a once dour, ship-like household (the seven little terrors quickly adore her), she also brings about a personality reversal in the once dour Captain himself—so much so that the two fall madly in love with each. Unfortunately a couple of things stand in their way: the Captain's fiancée Elsa Schräder (Jill Van Velzer) and the oncoming Anschluss, which will officially absorb Austria into the evil empire of Nazi Germany.
Not only is THE SOUND OF MUSIC's famous story drilled gloriously into the global consciousness, its many songs, too, have become just as ubiquitous. Arguably the Rodgers & Hammerstein team's most recognized score (which also marked their final collaboration), the show's songs are well-known standards: from "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" and "My Favorite Things," to "Maria" and, of course, the title song.
Under the direction of 3D Theatricals' own Artistic Director T.J. Dawson, this honorable, full-scale production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC smartly uses the familiarity of its origins within the grand, church-like environment of its venue to elevate the show above from yet another run-of-the-mill production one might catch at the local high school or even a decent-size community theater. Aside from the effectively antiquated sets and the aging but still beautiful background flats that go whizzing up and down the stage throughout the show, the production itself feels lovingly embraced by the Plummer Auditorium's vintage surfaces.
While there are a few laughably awkward moments that can be blamed partially on the original book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse—coupled with a few forced performances from isolated peripheral cast members—this enjoyable stage production is at its utmost best during the well-orchestrated musical numbers, especially the show's signature tunes that feature Maria, the nuns (oh, the magnificent harmonies these ladies produce!), and, of course, the seven adorable children. From its hauntingly stirring opening hymn followed by Huber's tone-perfect delivery of the title song, to the tear-inducing showstopper sung by Marty that closes the first act, the show does a great job of honoring these scenes that have been otherwise branded into our brains for decades.
Many novices to the Broadway original will be surprised by some of the differences that don't quite line-up with the movie version. Some of these instances include the moment featuring "My Favorite Things," which actually started life as a duet between Maria and Mother Abess. Later, "The Lonely Goatherd" is performed as the song Maria and the children sing during a thunderstorm, instead of serving it as a soundtrack to a puppet show.
Most notably, a couple of songs that were cut out of the film—"How Can Love Survive" and "No Way To Stop It"—remain in this production, and, boy, do they ever put a head-scratching, screeching halt to the show (their omission in the film now makes total sense). On the flip side, though, its great to see both "I Have Confidence" and "Something Good"—two songs written specifically for the film—inserted into this stage concoction, even though the latter feels much less romantic in its execution than I had hoped.
But, overall, the enjoyment of this production can be ultimately attributed to its very excellent ensemble, particularly the show's central lead. Having an eerie but welcome resemblance to the Maria in the film, Julie Andrews (especially when seen in profile), Huber truly embodies the role, especially in her impressive, wonderful singing. The same can be said of the marvelously-voiced Marty, whose every presence adds a palpable regal air to her scenes, even though the actress does feel much younger than her role may suggest.
Traversing the stage with appropriate entitlement, Van Velzer makes for a believably posh Schräder. The rather enthusiastic James Stellos, who plays family friend Max Detweiler, brings lots of humor to his scenes, though, I don't recall the character being quite so effeminate (admittedly, I've always had my suspicions). And as the Captain, Schmid does his best with his less showy role, but at times gets usurped by the stronger, more energetic females that dominate the show. Finally, the Von Trapp children, it should be noted, are all nicely cast: Tessa Grady (Liesl), Griffin Runnels (Friedrich), Jenna Lea Rosen (Louisa), Carter Thomas (Kurt), Cozi Zuehlsdorff (Brigitta), Jaidyn Young (Marta), and scene-stealing Hadley Miller (as little Gretl).
Much can be discussed about the pervasive love bestowed upon THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Whether in its umpteenth showing on television, in its latest digitally-enhanced high-definition remastering, or, as in this case, in an enjoyable stage revival, the musical's reach is hard to escape. It's also hard to escape the notion that the far superior movie adaptation—which presented a higher degree of conflict and story progression—is undoubtedly an improvement from its stage origins, thanks to the work introduced by its Oscar-nominated screenwriter Ernest Lehman and it's own Oscar-winning director Robert Wise.
Sure, it's an unfair comparison: flat, moving sets were tossed aside in favor of widescreen outdoor vistas. But nonetheless, seeing the musical in its stage form is still an undeniable treat, if only to experience its fantastic, nostalgic score performed live by actors and musicians. Thanks to 3D Theatricals' lovely revival, that very experience can be realized on a grand scale once again. I dare you not to smile.
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Photos of 3D Theatricals' presentation of THE SOUND OF MUSIC by Alysa Brennan.
From top to bottom: Captain Von Trapp (Tom Schmid) romances Maria (Kim Huber); the Captain (Schmid) looks on as Maria (Huber) realizes she's done something good; the Von Trapp children party with Maria (Huber, center) during a thunderstorm.
Performances of 3D Theatricals' THE SOUND OF MUSIC continue at the Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton through February 26, 2012 and are scheduled Thursdays – Saturdays at 8 pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. THE SOUND OF MUSIC is directed by T.J. Dawson and features choreography by Kami Seymour and musical direction by Julie Lamoureux.
The Plummer Auditorium is located at 201 East Champan Avenue in the city of Fullerton.
For tickets or more information, call 714-589-2770 or visit www.3DTshows.com.