Review: 'The Sound of Music'

October 24
5:15 PM 2008

 

It's nearly impossible to imagine a finer production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music.

This was the team's ninth and final show, and over the years has easily been their biggest moneymaker. A show so popular that legend has it that the opening night critics hated it.

 

Not at all. Of the seven leading critics in New York, three wrote rave reviews, three others were favorable and only one was unfavorable complaining that the show was "not only too sweet for words but almost too sweet for music." It seems very few agreed with him and the show shared the 1960 Tony award with the Pulitzer Prize winner Fiorello.

Though it ran 1,433 performances (the third longest run of an R & H show) it was the 1965 movie version that ensured its long-lived popularity. Winning 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture, the movie stayed in theatres for five years. The film greatly improved the narrative; Ernest Lehman's script rewrote much of the dialogue and repositioned several songs all for the immensely better.

It also set up a problem for anyone staging the show: audiences expect the stage play to reflect the film, but the production here that originated in London remains true to the original book by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse.  That is not necessary a good thing. The Lindsay Crouse book is workmanlike and professional but not terribly inspired. The inspiration comes from the Rodgers and Hammerstein score, which is filled with evergreens. So, director Jeremy Sams makes sure the book scenes zip by briskly and that those musical highlights sparkle.

He is aided by Robert Jones' imaginative set design that effectively whisks us from mountaintop to abbey with cinematic seamlessness. Yet the scenery just enhances the experience, it does not dominate it, which is as is should be.

Elicia Mackenzie, Canada's first choice as Maria sings the songs in a sweet and straightforward style. When she talks about a "lark that is learning to play" it doesn't cloy because we know that she believes in this. Her instant rapport with then children may be born of the expediency of story telling but it resonates because of her personal warmth. When she battles the Captain, we admire her spunk. In short she makes ever plot point plausible.

She can't do it alone, and fortunately she doesn't have to.  Burke Moses takes advantage of the limited opportunities in the script to make the Captain a three dimensional character. It isn't easy given the limited opportunities in the script. The children (there are 14 of them sharing seven roles) are all full of beans, enthusiastic and altogether charming.

Noella Huet is a kind, loving Mother Abbess who doesn't make a big aria of  "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" just letting it out with lots of pure emotion. The nuns are fun without resorting to outlandish stereotypes. Would I could say the same for the Nazis, who are scripted to be humorless hangmen and played with severity.

Keith Dinicol is the perpetual sponger Uncle Max and Blythe Wilson offers a younger more vibrant Baroness Schraeder that we usually see. Though she sings well, the choice to make this character less severe results in a bland characterization that seems a little too much like Maria. The script develops Elsa as wealthy widow, chairman of a foundation and a perfect intellectual match for Georg. The free spirited Maria is his emotional match. As played here, there isn't quite enough contrast between the two ladies.

Jeff Irving as Rolf sings a sweet version of "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" with Megan Nuttall as Liesl. The brisk (but not rushed) direction keeps the show moving along, but still allows the audience to be genuinely moved by some of the scenes, and overall this is a beautifully sung and acted presentation of a beloved story and should keep the Princess of Wales theatre filled for months to come.

 

The Sound of Music plays Tuesdays through Sundays at the Princess of Wales Theater. For tickets visit wwww.mirvish.com or call TicketKing at (416) 872-1212.

Reviewed at the performance Tuesday October 21, 2008.

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