Berkeley Playhouse Opens 5th Season with THE SOUND OF MUSIC, 10/27-12/2

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Berkeley Playhouse Opens 5th Season with THE SOUND OF MUSIC, 10/27-12/2

Berkeley Playhouse opens its fifth season with Rodgers and Hammerstein's beloved final collaboration, THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Berkeley Playhouse founding Artistic Director Elizabeth McKoy helms this endearing family classic, featuring a cast of 40, with musical direction by Greg Mason and choreography by Staci Arriaga. THE SOUND OF MUSIC plays October 27 through December 2 (Press opening: October 27) at the Julia Morgan Theatre in Berkeley. For tickets ($17-35) and more information, the public may visit berkeleyplayhouse.org or call 510-845-8542 x 351.

When struggling novice nun Maria proves too high-spirited for the religious life, she is dispatched to serve as governess to the seven troublesome children of widowed naval Captain Von Trapp. Her growing rapport with the youngsters, coupled with her generosity of spirit, gradually captures their hearts, and the heart of the stern Captain. Based on the real-life Austrian family and their narrow escape from the Nazi's over the mountains to Switzerland on the eve of World War II, THE SOUND OF MUSIC provides one of the most thrilling finales ever presented on stage, and includes such memorable songs as "My Favorite Things," "Do Re Mi," "Climb Every Mountain," and the title song, all of which have become a much-loved part of the 20th century musical theater canon.

The original Broadway production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, starring Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel, opened on November 16, 1959. The show tied for the Tony Award for Best Musical with Fiorello!, with Martin winning for Best Actress in a Musical. It was adapted as a 1965 film musical starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, which won five Academy Awards. The production received a 1981 West End revival, and in 1998, director Susan H. Schulman staged the first Broadway revival; Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber remounted a West End revival in 2006. THE SOUND OF MUSIC was the final musical written by Rodgers and Hammerstein; Hammerstein died nine months after the original Broadway premiere.

"Ever since I was a young girl, I have been transfixed with the music and the beautiful, haunting melodies that drive THE SOUND OF MUSIC," said Artistic Director Elizabeth McKoy. "When I was younger, the story was only about a family who needed love and then found love. As I grew older, the context of World War II and the Nazi's gave me deeper insight and understanding as to how rich and important a show like THE SOUND OF MUSIC truly was."

Continued McKoy, "This is the perfect multigenerational show; it has so many levels that, regardless of age, the joyful music and heartfelt melodies will transport audiences. The characters and plot tell a complex, interwoven story where audience members are able to connect to so many different aspects of the production. THE SOUND OF MUSIC is Rodgers and Hammerstein's final musical; it is so perfectly constructed, it feels like an honor to direct this show. With the inclusion of so many of the beloved songs from the film version, it will be all that much more nostalgic and captivating."

Tim Kniffin and Sharon Rietkerk make their Berkeley Playhouse debuts as Captain Von Trapp and novice nun Maria in THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Kniffin's credits include productions at Aurora Theatre Company (Anatol, Trouble in Mind, The Best Man, Permanent Collection), Magic Theatre (An Accident), Center REPertory Company (Summer and Smoke), Marin Theatre Company (Found Objects), Pacific Alliance Stage Company (A Streetcar Named Desire), Cinnabar Theater (110 in the Shade), and Shakespeare Napa Valley (Twelfth Night), among others. Rietkerk's credits include productions at TheatreWorks (The Secret Garden), Center REPertory Company (Rumors, Xanadu, She Loves Me), 42nd Street Moon (Nymph Errant, Strike Up the Band), Willows Theatre Company (Evil Dead the Musical), Diablo Theatre Company (The Drowsy Chaperone, Curtains), and Lamplighters Music Theater (My Fair Lady, Iolanthe). Additional credits include productions with South Coast Symphony, Napa Valley Opera House, and Ukiah Symphony; Rietkerk is also a teaching artist with the San Francisco Opera's Opera a la Carte program.

THE SOUND OF MUSIC features a phenomenal ensemble of professional adult actors, as well as an alternating cast of youth actors trained in the Berkeley Playhouse Conservatory professional internship programs, including: Casey Ellis (Napa Valley Playhouse) as Liesl Von Trapp; Patricia Soria Urbano (West Bay Opera, Pocket Opera) as Mother Abbess; Calia Johnson (Berkeley Playhouse, Ray of Light Theater) as Sister Berthe; Hannah Dworkin (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Aladdin at Berkeley Playhouse) as Sister Margaretta; Emily Alvarado (Contra Costa Civic Theater, Berkeley Playhouse) as Sister Sophia; Kyle Stoner (Berkeley Playhouse, 42nd Street Moon) as Rolf Gruber; Melinda Meng (Berkeley Playhouse, Shotgun Players) as Elsa Schraeder; and Chad Dickerson (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory at Berkeley Playhouse) as Max Detweiller.

Featured as the Von Trapp children are: Danny DeBare and Alex Franklin as Friedrich; Siena Bogatin and Niamh Collins as Louisa; Caleb Meyers and Jacob Henrie-Naffaa as Kurt; Nandi Drayton and Tanaka Dunbar Ngwara as Brigitta; Eliana Goldfarb and Malia Lee as Marta; and Charlotte Ying Levy and Emma Curtin as Gretl.

Rounding out the cast are Lucas Brandt, Aubri Kahalekulu, Susan Mayer, Billy Raphael, Adam Roy, Wanlin Shue, and Bessie Zolno.

Elizabeth McKoy directs THE SOUND OF MUSIC. A passionate theater teaching artist and Education Director for over 25 years, McKoy foundEd Berkeley Playhouse in 2007. For the company, she has directed numerous productions, including last season's hit production of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Peter Pan, Cinderella, Enchanted, Into The Woods, The Music Man, and Bravado, among others. Additionally, McKoy spearheaded a new musical works program for Berkeley Playhouse, commissioning new musicals including the fully-staged workshop of Born and Raised and Bravado. In addition to directing, McKoy guides and trains teaching artists and writes curriculum for Berkeley Playhouse Conservatory, which now serves over 500 youths each year. She continues to oversee the vision for the Berkeley Playhouse main stage and youth companies, outreach, and education programs.

Greg Mason provides musical direction for THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Most recently, he was the music director for SF Playhouse's production of My Fair Lady. He has performed and taught across the United States and abroad, and has worked on four national Broadway tours. Additionally, Mason was the principal coach for Sacramento Opera, on the coaching staff at Virginia Opera, was the music director and part of the faculty for the American Institute of Musical Studies in Austria, and a pianist for the San Francisco Choral Society, California Musical Theater and San Francisco Symphony. As a coach in New York City, Mason was pianist for the American Music Competition at Carnegie Hall, opera classes at the Juilliard School, and a master class with Placido Domingo at the Metropolitan Opera.

Staci Arriaga choreographs THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Arriaga has taught dance for over 20 years and choreographed for the stage for the last 16 years. She spent 10 years dancing with The Lisa Clark Dancers (recently seen on America's Got Talent). Her work has been seen in the Bay Area at Willows Theatre Company, 42nd Street Moon, and Napa Valley Playhouse, among others.

Richard Rodgers (Music) was born in New York City in 1902. His earliest professional credits, beginning in 1920, include a series of musicals written exclusively with lyricist Lorenz Hart. In the first decade of their collaboration, Rodgers and Hart averaged two new shows every season, including Babes in Arms (1937), The Boys from Syracuse (1938), Too Many Girls (1939), Pal Joey (1940), and By Jupiter (1942).

Oscar Hammerstein II (Lyrics) was born in 1895 in New York City into a family prominent in show business. His grandfather, the first Oscar Hammerstein, was an important opera producer, his uncle Arthur was a Broadway producer, and his father William was the manager of a vaudeville theater in Manhattan. Oscar Hammerstein II studied at Columbia University where he wrote and acted in student shows. He went on to get a law degree but abandoned law for the theater, becoming an assistant stage manager for his producer uncle. Hammerstein quickly became known for his books and lyrics for musicals. His first big success, Wildflower (1923), a collaboration with Otto Harbach, was followed by Rose Marie (1924), Sunny (1925), and The Desert Song (1926), a classic operetta written with composer Sigmund Romberg.

The Rodgers and Hart partnership began to wane as Hart's health declined (he died in 1943), and Rodgers joined forces with lyricist and author Oscar Hammerstein II, whose work in the field of operetta throughout the 1920s and 1930s had been as innovative as Rodgers' own accomplishments in musical comedy. Oklahoma! (1943), the first Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, was also the first of a new genre, the musical play, representing a unique fusion of musical comedy and operetta. A milestone in the development of the American musical, it also marked the beginning of the most successful partnership in Broadway musical history, and was followed by Carousel (1945), Allegro (1947), South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951), Me and Juliet (1953), Pipe Dream (1955), Flower Drum Song (1958), and THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1959). The team wrote one movie musical, State Fair (1945), and a musical for television, Cinderella (1957). Collectively, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals earned 34 Tony Awards, 15 Academy Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes, two Grammy Awards and two Emmy Awards. In 1998, Rodgers and Hammerstein were cited by Time magazine and CBS News as among the 20 most influential artists of the 20th century, and in 1999 they were jointly commemorated on a U.S. postage stamp. Hammerstein died in 1960; Richard Rodgers died in 1979.

Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse (Book) collaborated from 1935 to 1962 on a succession of Broadway comedies and musicals. Their first collaboration was the rewriting of the libretto of the Cole Porter musical Anything Goes (1935), which became a major hit. They wrote the play Life with Father, which opened in 1939 and starred Lindsay and his wife Dorothy Stickney; it ran for over seven years, becoming the longest-running non-musical play on Broadway. In 1946, Lindsay and Crouse were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for their play State of the Union. Other works include the librettos for THE SOUND OF MUSIC, the Cole Porter musical Red, Hot and Blue, and the Irving Berlin musical Call Me Madam. Their last collaboration was the 1962 Irving Berlin musical Mr. President.

Berkeley Playhouse was founded in 2007 by Artistic Director Elizabeth McKoy, a professional theater actor, director, and teacher for over 25 years. Under the artistic guidance of McKoy, and Managing Director Lauren Hewitt, Berkeley Playhouse is a professional theater for all ages that presents a season of year-round musicals, providing children and families with unique and sophisticated musical theater experiences. In addition, Berkeley Playhouse has a music theater conservatory which offers a range of educational instruction classes in music performance skills. In 2009, Berkeley Playhouse made its permanent performance home at the historic Julia Morgan Theatre in Berkeley.

Following THE SOUND OF MUSIC, Jon Tracy returns to Berkeley Playhouse to direct Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows' GUYS AND DOLLS in March, followed by THE WIZ directed by Artistic Director Elizabeth McKoy in July.

Photo credit: Jessica Palopoli

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