Review: This SOUND OF MUSIC Sings a Different Tune

'The Sound of Music' closes on Mar. 26, 2023.

Video: Ruthie Ann Miles Was Afraid that Audiences Just Didn't 'Get' Her Character

By Jude Cartalaba and Oliver Oliveros

Manila, Philippines--It took eight years for three-time Tony awardee Jack O'Brien-directed "The Sound of Music," a warhorse title from the Rodgers and Hammerstein's catalog, to reach the Philippines' capital--a rare feat because most of the international productions visiting town are either from South Africa or the United Kingdom.

O'Brien's modified version stays true to the storyline we all loved about this musical-turned-movie. But don't be fooled: the characters here are more fleshed out, never one-dimensional, and honest to the core, making those two hours inside the Samsung Performing Arts Theatre a real treat to the audience who thought they knew "The Sound of Music" through and through.

Still loosely based on the memoir "The Story of the Trapp Family Singers," written by Maria Augusta von Trapp, postulant Maria (Jill-Christine Wiley), an orphan raised by a court-appointed guardian before entering the Nonnberg Abbey as a young adult, is now besties with a relatively young Mother Abbess (Lauren Kidwell), who is probably just a bit older than her ward. Mother Abbess relates perfectly to the "problematic" Maria, whose high spirits, love of music, and true calling are a shared common bond.

We say adieu to Captain von Trapp's distant and demanding presence. Here, the captain of the von Trapp house, which was once filled with music and dancing, is depicted as a widowed father who is still up with his emotions, especially when it concerns his seven children, Liesl (Lauren O'Brien), the eldest, to Gretl (Olive Ross-Kline), the youngest. Captain von Trapp (Trevor Martin, baritone) is a gentle, warm-hearted single parent, after all.

Video: Ruthie Ann Miles Was Afraid that Audiences Just Didn't 'Get' Her CharacterBesides O'Brien's clever character twists from the nuns to the captain, the characters Elsa Schraeder (Karylle Tatlonghari) and Rolf Gruber (Markki Stroem)--played by local celebrities-thespians (last-minute replacements because their predecessors' contracts have expired--but, oh boy, the Good Lord may have His reasons )--are made more appealing, layered, in-depth compared to previous stagings of the same musical.

Tatlonghari and Stroem become their characters effortlessly in the singing and acting departments. Her Elsa is never an all-out antagonist, gunning for the captain's wedding proposal. Meanwhile, his Rolf, 17, who flirts with Liesl, 16, in "Sixteen Going on Seventeen," is convincingly menacing in the later part of the story.

Both local talents had big shoes to fill, but they took the challenge and triumphed like they played their roles for the longest time. It was a marvel to witness the hard work of these two on the stage--not to mention the evident support from their scene partners: Elsa's Max (Joshua La Force) and Rolf's Liesl (Lauren O'Brien).

Another game-changer in this fresh take on the musical is its stand on inclusivity. In Maria's first meeting with the children at the Villa Trapp, she teaches them how to sing, "Do-Re-Mi," incorporating basic conversational sign language, choreographed by Danny Mefford and James Gray. The same is also embraced in the musical number "So Long, Farewell" and its reprise.

Video: Ruthie Ann Miles Was Afraid that Audiences Just Didn't 'Get' Her CharacterIn addition to all these creative decisions, Douglas Schmidt's set pieces, particularly in the opening sequence: "Preludium" and "The Sound of Music," the wedding scene: "Maria" (Reprise) and "Confitemini Domino," and the finale: "Finale Ultimo" are stunning theatrical visuals that could hold your breath. Jane Greenwood's costumes are period-appropriate, 1938 Austria on the eve of the Anschluss, the political union of Austria with Germany. Natasha Katz's lighting mix and cues (oh, those columns of light against that huge stained glass art window in "Climb Ev'ry Mountain") and Shannon Slaton's sound (apparently, had a few mics that konked out on the gala premiere) help the story to move forward seamlessly--pretty similar to how O'Brien staged the flawless transitions of set props, major set pieces, and video projections, prohibiting total blackouts in between the scenes.

The Broadway International Group, Broadway Asia, AMA Group of Companies, in association with GMG Productions, co-present the Manila leg of the show's international tour, which kicked off in Singapore, followed by a limited run in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

After Manila, the production travels to Mumbai, India (sans Tatlonghari and Stroem).

"The Sound of Music," which closes on Mar. 26, 2023, is accompanied by a 17-piece orchestra conducted by T.C. Kincer

Photos: The Broadway International Group, Broadway Asia, and GMG Productions



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