BWW Reviews: Broadway Rose Theater's THE SOUND OF MUSIC a Visual Stunner with Powerhouse Talent
My mother was at a funeral the other week for an old family friend. Mom and I spoke about it yesterday. Throughout the ceremony there was music playing, the songs were some of this woman’s favorite, songs that she adored up until her death, and nearly all of them were from THE SOUND OF MUSIC. My mother recalled when she and this woman had gone to see THE SOUND OF MUSIC in the cinema when it had first come out as a film, it was surprising that so many years later, so many of the tunes still brought so much joy.
All right, now let’s everyone take a breath and go back to being lighthearted.
Broadway Rose Theater Company is one of Portland’s big guns in the scene, so expectations-wise we’ve set the bar pretty high to begin with. Then, Broadway Rose Theater Company is tackling what is arguably one of the most influential texts of the 20th century (remember the decades of film studios thinking they could throw any old rubbish together in the form of a musical and make loads of money, eventually helping to carve out ‘event cinema’ and accelerate the decline of narrative in favor of spectacle-dominated texts? Yeah, this play’s fault.), so we’ve set the bar doubly high for this performance!
Does it deliver? Yes, of course! Is it a great night out? Yes, of course! Obligatory and quotable one-sentence-snapshot for the website? THE SOUND OF MUSIC remains as true to form as ever, made even more impressive by its slick direction, larger-than-life production value, and extensive cast that has talent (so close to literally!) pouring out into the aisles.
At this point we’re all aware that the nitpicking and opinionated-writer portion of the review approacheth, but before we crack on I’d like to genuinely take some time to break down why the strengths of the play make it such a success.
First off, the direction in all aspects is incredibly on point. When a text is as entrenched into the cultural psyche as THE SOUND OF MUSIC, and written in such a straightforward manner, it’s hard to find places for creative liberties. I’m not going to try and pitch that this production has much avant-garde theatricality to it, but it’s still an incredible achievement when the decisions made for presentation are so perfectly placed that they verge on feeling axiomatic. I’m sure that sounds like hyperbole. Let me give you an example, a see-through curtain is used to begin several scenes, the kind that is often used to allow for silent pantomime and then as close to a ‘fade-in’ effect as theater can get. The use of this curtain is common, but the decision to begin a character’s lines until their dialogue reaches the first ‘beat’ before raising that curtain effectively creates an introduction to new voice, setting, scene, and discussion where there initially was none. It’s a small example (my readership can usually tolerate spoilers regarding curtain usage), but it shows how through a technical point, director Sharon Maroney creates what is essentially an abstract to lead us into our newest location. It’s choices like this that feel obvious, without also feeling dull, that suggest good direction.
Second, the larger-than-life production value. I’m not going to linger on this point, because it speaks for itself and can only be expressed through actually seeing the production. Everything, everything, is way more elaborate than you’d expect, to the point that I have to wonder if the designers thought THE SOUND OF MUSIC was an event at the X-Games. And I’m not the only one who found it note-worthy, considering how each new set seemed to draw an impressed murmur from the audience. And on top of all of that…the technical director’s name is Bearclaw. Bearclaw! Why are you not going to see this play right now?!
The last success story is the cast, and it seems like a fairly exhaustive list of singing talent in this production. With Leah Yorkston as Maria Rainer, Margie Boulé as the Mother Abbess, and what can only be described as an intimidating amount of nuns serving as the chorus…purity seems to be the defining feature of the vocal performers. Clear harmonies and tight, technical execution make for more than one rousing number. You’ll cheer after ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’, that’s for sure. If you don’t, see a doctor so that he can blindside you with a brick.
Oh, and a quick mention of Isaac Lamb, who plays an astoundingly wonderful Captain Georg von Trapp. I’ve been doing this drama critic thing for a while now and have not once seen a play in which at least one person’s speaking voice didn’t bother me for various reasons. This, however, is very much the first play where an actor’s speaking voice actually impressed me. Isaac really comes off brilliantly, singing well, of course, but more so as a presence on stage. His personality and voice are noteworthy, in a way that makes me glad he’s a Portlander (oddly). Plus I feel like I recognize him from somewhere…somewhere internity…