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BWW Review: THE SOUND OF MUSIC Breathes New Life Into the Hills

The Sound of Music

Music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, Suggested by The Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp; Directed by Jack O'Brien, Choreography by Danny Mefford; Music Supervisor, Andy Einhorn; Music Director/Conductor, Jay Alger; Scenic Designer, Douglas W. Schmidt; Costume Designer, Jane Greenwood; Lighting Designer, Natasha Katz; Sound Designer, Ken Travis; Production Stage Manager, B.J. Forman

CAST: Kerstin Anderson, Ben Davis, Merwin Foard, Teri Hansen, Paige Silvester, Dan Tracy, Audrey Bennett, Mackenzie Currie, Quinn Erickson, Svea Elizabeth Johnson, Maria Suzanne Knasel, Jeremy Michael Lanuti, Kyla Carter, Lucas Schultz, Christopher Carl, Donna Garner, Darren Matthias, Brent Schindele, Carey Rebecca Brown, Ronald L. Brown, Cáitlín Burke, Patton Chandler, Daniella Dalli, Elisabeth Evans, Meghan Hales, Jenavene Hester, Adam Hill, Kelly McCormick, Julia Osborne, Andrea Ross, Jim Schubin, and Melody Betts as The Mother Abbess

Performances through April 10 at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street, Boston, MA; Tickets: at Boston Opera House Box Office, Ticketmaster 800-982-2787 or www.BroadwayInBoston.com

The original Broadway production of The Sound of Music, starring Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel, opened on November 16, 1959. Out of nine nominations, it won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and was the final collaboration between composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. In 1965, the film version with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer was released and, five decades later, it is the most successful movie musical in history. When "The Sound of Music Live!" aired on NBC in December, 2013, it was the first live television production of a musical in over 50 years and attained a level of success that opened the door for future live televised theater events. In addition, the book was written by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, whose partnership of 32 years is the longest in theatrical history. All in all, The Sound of Music boasts an impressive pedigree.

The new National Touring Production of The Sound of Music is directed by three-time Tony Award winner Jack O'Brien, whose vision and interpretation have breathed new life into the venerable hills and introduced a star-in-the-making. A musical that would be eligible for AARP membership feels fresh thanks to the vivacious, talented Kerstin Anderson as Maria Rainer (problem solved!) who captivates us from the opening strains of her first song, "The Sound of Music." Plucked from the undergraduate ranks of Pace University, Anderson's youth works in her favor when Maria becomes the Pied Piper to the von Trapp children and when she righteously battles their father on their behalf. She capably plays the character's insecurity and immaturity, yet she overcomes those traits just as believably as Maria grows into her roles as governess and love interest. Anderson's polished acting skills are elevated by her lovely vocals, showing both passion and energy, and she blends well in her songs with others.

Although Anderson is the best thing about this show, there are many accolades to be doled out. Melody Betts is terrific as the Mother Abbess, portraying her with a greater emphasis on the warmth of a mother-daughter relationship, while still making it clear that she's the head honcho of the nuns. The power of Betts' voice makes "Climb Every Mountain" memorable, but the playfulness she exudes in "My Favorite Things" allows her to bond with Maria and changes their dynamic. If the Reverend Mother gives Maria the velvet glove treatment, Captain von Trapp supplies paternalistic discipline to her, as if she were another of his offspring. Ben Davis has the strict military bearing down pat, yet allows a glimmer of the Captain's humanity to shine through his tough shell so that his personality transformation is credible. In fact, watching him as he listens to the children singing the title song is among the musical's most moving moments, as is Davis' rich baritone rendition of "Edelweiss" when the family performs at the Festival Concert.

The von Trapp children as a group are professional enough to come across as naturals, and each conveys the individual traits of their character. From the littlest (adorable Audrey Bennett and Mackenzie Currie), to the brutally honest (Svea Elizabeth Johnson), to the playful (Maria Suzanne Knasel), the girls stand out a bit more than the boys (Quinn Erickson, Jeremy Michael Lanuti), but they perform well as a unit and relate to the adults around them. Paige Silvester (Liesl) manifests the duality of adolescence, appearing above it all when the other children march to the commands thrown at them, yet seeking protection and affection from Maria when her bravado crumbles. She plays the smitten flirt well and dances gracefully in her scene ("Sixteen Going on Seventeen") with the "older" man Rolf Gruber. Dan Tracy as the17-year old bicycle messenger tests the ability to suspend disbelief, but he does capture the persona of the boy trying to be tough and prove his allegiance to the Nazi regime.

Teri Hansen (Elsa Schraeder) and Merwin Foard (Max Detweiler) are both Broadway veterans with amazing voices who raise the bar in important supporting roles. Donna Garner (Frau Schmidt) and Darren Matthias (Franz) are solid as von Trapp's household staff, and the nefarious Nazis include Brent Schindele (chilling) and Christopher Carl. The singing Sisters of Nonnberg Abbey trying to figure out how to deal with Maria are Carey Rebecca Brown, Julia Osborne, and Elisabeth Evans. The multi-talented ensemble players take on various identities as neighbors, nuns, novices, and contestants at the Festival Concert. (Among them is New Hampshire native, Wheelock Family Theatre alumna, and Elliot Norton Award-winner Andrea Ross; Ronald L.Brown, Cáitlín Burke, Patton Chandler, Daniella Dalli, Meghan Hales, Jenavene Hester, Adam Hill, Kelly McCormick, Jim Schubin)

Aided by the effervescence of his leading lady, O'Brien establishes a pace that keeps the 90-minute first act perpetually moving. Scenic Designer Douglas W. Schmidt's sets are mobile, allowing changes to occur virtually before a scene ends. The lighting design (Natasha Katz) often covers for an impending metamorphosis, or focuses a spotlight on a precise area while the rest of the stage is converted for a larger scene. Costume Designer Jane Greenwood imagines a wide variety of evocative attire that includes the nuns' habits, military uniforms, stylish evening wear, a splendid wedding gown for Maria, and the appropriately god-awful outfits for the children that Maria "fashions" from the discarded window curtains.

The widespread familiarity with the story of The Sound of Music makes it unlikely that there would be any surprises, yet O'Brien finds a way to make several moments stand out and builds on them to create a tonal shift. The specter of the Nazi takeover looms like a cloud over everything, and, although it is taken seriously, the message that love and music can win over evil is strongly delivered. Music Supervisor Andy Einhorn, Music Director/Conductor Jay Alger, and Choreography Danny Mefford do a superb job of bringing the Rodgers and Hammerstein score to its rightful place at the fore. When the orchestra and the entire company perform the finale and the von Trapp family begins their ascent over the mountains to safety and freedom, they are bound to live the life they are meant to live. After more than half a century, that is still a very powerful ending.

Photo credit: Matthew Murphy (Kerstin Anderson as Maria Rainer)



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From This Author Nancy Grossman