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Review: Dallas Theater Center's THE SOUND OF MUSIC Modernizes a Beloved Classic

Dallas Theater Center reimagines a story we all know and love. Go see The Sound of Music at Wyly Theatre before it's too late! March 26-April 24.

Review: Dallas Theater Center's THE SOUND OF MUSIC Modernizes a Beloved Classic You know that feeling of sitting on your couch after a long day of work, or taking your first sip of coffee from your favorite roastery, or feeling a ray of sunshine touch your face on the first warm day of spring? That feeling-that desirable, delightful feeling-is how I felt when hearing that Dallas Theater Center would be producing The Sound of Music. Not only are they recreating a story that is well-known and incredibly loved, but they are doing so with a multicultural cast, reflecting the true makeup of our Dallas community. Dallas Theater Center has done it again and delivered a few of my favorite things: a beautiful set, a skilled cast, and a magical evening at Wyly Theatre.

The performance began in an ominous way, a man standing and smoking a cigarette in an elevated window and multiple nuns standing in the shadows. It didn't take long until we were transported to a funeral where a grieving man was struggling to interact with his children. This brief, yet heartbreaking moment forced the audience to witness and take part in the vulnerability in the show, asking us to open our hearts to the characters, their losses, and eventually their triumphs. Despite the dim, emotional beginning, our attention was quickly redirected to the bright, colorful canvas, painted by Laurence Boyles, that acted as the floor for the performance. As nuns began to sing upbeat tunes, they danced atop the gorgeous hills and sky that were painted below their feet. This was a unique way to present the hills as a backdrop for the musical; I thought it was brilliant and beautiful, and it constantly reminded me that regardless of the hardships these characters were facing, they were still among those joyous hills.

Something I admired about the performance space, designed by Beowulf Boritt, was its simple beauty. The artistic flooring, gorgeous stained-glass window, and the use of only a few scenic properties lent themselves to the actors' abilities. This became apparent in the first solo scene, when Maria, in this performance brilliantly played by Arianna Hardaway, was singing "The Sound of Music" in the abbey. The air in the theater changed as soon as she started singing; we were all immediately invested in this song that we all so desperately wanted to hear, and it felt like we were taking part in an intimate moment between Maria and her beloved hills. This was the first of many fan-favorite musical numbers, and thanks to the hard work of Music Director Samuel Bagala and Twi McCallum's sound design, not one of them fell short of perfection. As soon as Hardaway finished singing this song, we knew that we were on the outside of a fishbowl, watching these characters and learning their beliefs, struggles, hopes, and desires.

What made this fishbowl setup clear and believable was the acting. The presence of the cast members, their reactions to nonexistent furniture, and their convincing gazes beyond the audience were what truly developed the setting of each scene. Because of their believable acting, my brain was constantly filling the stage with the furniture they were dancing around. It was incredible! There were some props throughout the performance, like pillows, a beautiful rose bouquet, glassware, and eventually a flashlight, all of which contributed to our understanding of meaningful events. Although the supplemental props were helpful, the acting and beauty of the set itself were enough to know exactly when an event was occurring and where the characters were in each scene. There was one significant moment when Maria stood upstage, centered between Captain Georg von Trapp and Elsa Schraeder, who were standing opposite one another downstage. The powerful emotion of this moment was tangible, and the intentional spacing of the actors spanned across the entire stage; it was a perfect example of intentional staging.

Dallas Theater Center did a spectacular job casting for this production. We had the privilege of watching Arianna Hardaway, Understudy for Maria, play this famous, feel-good role, and she was nothing short of a leading actress. Her grace and kindness shone through her soft yet passionate voice and nurturing actions. The way she interacted with the children felt completely authentic. The von Trapp children themselves were a joy to watch. In their debut on stage, they lined up like soldiers, but as soon as their father left the room, they instantly snapped back into their true personalities; it was both adorable and amusing. All of these cast members-Christina Austin Lopez as Liesl, Wyatt Hartz as Friedrich, Mckenzy Dodson as Louisa, Patrick Bilbow as Kurt, Sophie Rose Kirkham as Brigitta, Kenzie Rees as Marta, Understudy Jaelle Duff as Gretl-did wonderful jobs acting individually as children and siblings while simultaneously contributing to how we understood the dynamics of the family as a whole.

Let's be honest, The Sound of Music would still be fun and entertaining if it solely told the story of Maria and the children, but every other character adds to the nuance of the story, which was especially true in DTC's production. There is a common archetype of the funny or occasionally mischievous nun, and sometimes this archetype can be overplayed; that was not the case in this performance. The nuns were the perfect balance of religious leaders, caregivers, motherly advice providers, and friends. Their voices were harmonious and heavenly. I truly felt like I could've been in church when they sang in unison. However, Angela Turner Wilson, portraying The Mother Abbess, had a voice that shook the theater at the end of Act I. We could feel the power in her voice as she sang "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" at the end of Act I. The light was hitting her just right, as designed by Jason Lyons, and just as the music stopped and her crescendo reached its peak, she lifted her arms one inch higher and the lights shut off. It was electric.

The nuns may have had the most heavenly voices, but they weren't the only caregivers; the von Trapp family had a butler and housekeeper who were helpful and hilarious throughout the entire performance. Bob Hess, playing the butler, Franz, and Sally Nystuen Vahle, playing the housekeeper, Frau Schmidt, had clear chemistry when on stage together. Their characters ran the house like clockwork while engaging in plenty of friendly banter; they were a joy to watch, and they often offered a brief moment of hilarity in the midst of emotional moments.

Paolo Montalban perfectly played the esteemed Captain Georg von Trapp, starting as a grieving father who runs his home like a Navy ship and later shedding his demanding whistle and trading it for tenderness. Montalban's performance felt vulnerable and honest, solidifying why he was chosen for this role. Although we all could feel the love building between Captain von Trapp and Maria, I couldn't help but get excited when Captain von Trapp's short-lived girlfriend was on stage. Sarah Gay played the poised, sometimes pompous Elsa Schraeder, and she was incredibly fun to watch. Gay did a fabulous job being, well, fabulous! Her character fit into the story similarly to Captain Georg von Trapp's buddy, Max Detweller, charmingly played by Alex Organ. Both characters appreciated the von Trapp family but also had motives to serve themselves. Gay and Organ effectively revealed the nuances of friendships during these times, belieavably portraying moments of lighthearted teasing, professional triumphs, political differences, and making sacrifies to protect one another.

The historical context of this tale is intertwined in the action but doesn't become the focus until Act II. Multiple characters-Brian Mathis as the ruthless Lieutenant, Oscar Seung as the demanding Admiral von Schreiber, and Lance Jewett as Rolf Gruber, a neighborhood boy who later returns in Nazi garb and warns Leisl, played by the always impressive Christina Austin Lopez, to leave before it's too late-make appearances and signify the arrival of the Nazis in Austria. Thinking back to watching this movie as a young girl, I was so in love with the music, I didn't internalize the horrific events that were creeping closer and closer to the von Trapp family, eventually landing on their doorstep and trying to take them away. The skilled acting of the cast allowed the mood to shift back and forth between happy and grim, and Alejo Vietti's costume design made it that much easier for the audience to grasp an understanding of that mood. The various outfits of the von Trapp children, from uniforms to beautiful matching sets, demonstrated the father's military background and the family's wealth. Elsa Schraeder's elegant outfits showed the audience her priorities and economic status based on her professional success. When Rolf Gruber traded his street clothing for a Nazi uniform, he shocked the audience and confronted us with the truth that almost anyone could have been on the wrong side of history. All of these costume decisions contributed to our understanding of the characters and the historical and social contexts they were operating within.

An artistic, unique break from the plot were the dancing numbers that appeared throughout the performance. There were multiple moments when characters were dancing to the music without speaking or singing. I was mesmerized each time this occurred. In these moments, the choreography was telling the story; there was no need for words. Choreographer Bridget L. Moore did a fantastic job crafting the movements to keep the action of the production moving forward without the use of verbal messages.

I'm sure the feeling of directing such a beloved production can come with a lot of pressure, but Kevin Moriarty was incredibly successful. The casting alone modernized this story that has been told over and over again, making it accessible and recognizable to our Dallas community. Dallas Theater Center repeatedly does an impeccable job producing shows that are entertaining and meaningful. Whether the show is an original or a modernized classic, you can always count on Dallas Theater Center to deliver an incredible performance. Liz Mikel once labeled Dallas Theater Center as "Broadway caliber theater in your hometown," and after watching this cast reimagine the songs and story of The Sound of Music, I couldn't agree more.

How To Get Tickets

Wyly Theatre March 26-April 24. Purchase tickets through the Dallas Theater Center website. Run time: 2 hours and 45 minutes including one 10-minute intermission. To learn more about the amazing talent behind the scenes, read the digital playbill here.

Photo Credit: Karen Almond

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