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BWW Review: Audience Favorite THE SOUND OF MUSIC Sings Once More in La Mirada

The saccharine-doused crowd-pleaser gets a visually-pleasing, lovely-sounding new production that earnestly aims to entertain.

BWW Review: Audience Favorite THE SOUND OF MUSIC Sings Once More in La Mirada
Diane Phelan (center) and the von Trapp Children from
La Mirada Theatre's THE SOUND OF MUSIC

An enduring, Tony Award-winning classic, THE SOUND OF MUSIC is one of those ubiquitous, stalwart musical theatre properties that have stood the test of time and manages to be a frequent crowd-pleaser with every new production, whether as a live televised event, yet another national touring revival, or even, yes, as a local regional production.

The show, of course, gained even bigger worldwide notoriety after the release of its popular Oscar-winning 1965 film adaptation starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, which continues to be, to this day, a popular family movie night staple in many households. Featuring a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse (that's based on the real-life account written by Maria Augusta Trapp), combined with the forever universally familiar songbook of earworms by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein III (the final show the prosperous duo will create together), the musical---as wholesome and square as it can very often feel---continues to be viewed and enjoyed by all ages together, nearly 65 years after its Broadway debut.

It is no surprise, then, that THE SOUND OF MUSIC's built-in charm and charisma is indeed very much present in McCoy Rigby Entertainment's latest stage iteration of this classic stage production, now playing at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts through May 15, 2022. Filled with visually-captivating production values, a gorgeous-sounding orchestral sound, and an overall, infectiously winning spirit, this new production---directed with grandiose but still down-to-earth pluck by Glenn Casale---is a fun, pleasantly nostalgic throwback to the old-fashioned Broadway book musical.

The infamous story---based on real people and events---follows the remarkable journey of Maria Rainer (Diane Phelan), a restless postulant at Nonberg Abbey in Salzburg, Austria, who is soon forced to navigate a changing world outside the convent walls.

It is 1938, and as the oncoming German threat looms in the near distance, Maria is reassigned by Reverend Mother Abbess (Suzanna Guzmán) to become the new governess for the seven (!) young children of retired, highly-decorated Naval Captain Georg von Trapp (Christopher Carl). A widower who seems to have lost any sense of joy, the often cold Captain runs his household with a strict, stern demeanor, as if he was once again in command of one of his previous ocean vessels.

BWW Review: Audience Favorite THE SOUND OF MUSIC Sings Once More in La Mirada
The Cast of La Mirada Theatre's THE SOUND OF MUSIC

Initially intimidated by the assignment, Maria quickly takes to the role of looking after the children, whom she adores immediately. The children---who previously hated and tortured every nanny they've had before---warm up to Maria just as fast (it took longer in the film), particularly after she teaches them how to sing, and then later when she gives them shelter from the sounds of loud thunder via a song about a yodeling goat herder.

The stifled children love her. Even 16-year-old eldest daughter Leisl (Jenna Lea Rosen) changes her mind about not needing a governess after Maria treats her with kindness after returning late from a brief flirty pas de deux with local telegram messenger boy Rolf (Cory Lingner). Maria, for her part, is somehow a master seamstress as well because she makes not only new clothes for herself but also new play clothes---from her soon-to-be-discarded drapes---for the children to frolic in about town.

Meanwhile the Captain briefly leaves the von Trapp estate to visit (and bring back) her soon-to-be-bride, the Baroness Elsa Schraeder (Joanne Javien) to see the mansion and to meet his children. Family friend---and expert moocher---Max Detweiler (Roland Ponce Rusinek) tags along to take advantage of the host's many amenities as well as scout for undiscovered musical talent for his upcoming planned Kalzberg Music Festival.

As predictable as a rom-com, at first, Captain von Trapp and Maria seem to butt heads on almost everything---from his use of whistles to summon people to the way he treats his own children who, in her words, "just want to be loved." But then when the Captain realizes Maria's real value not only to his children and household but also to himself, he soon catches feelings.

Even larger complications arise, however, as the Nazi Anschluss gets closer and closer to home and threatens all who stand in its deathly path.

BWW Review: Audience Favorite THE SOUND OF MUSIC Sings Once More in La Mirada
Diane Phelan and Suzanna Guzmán

Timelessly entertaining to a fault, THE SOUND OF MUSIC is a comforting show that can still be as irresistibly smile-inducing as the time one first experiences it.

But has the show been tweaked a bit to reflect 21st Century progressive values? Not that much, actually... in fact, the show---content-wise, anyhow---is quite a faithful revival in terms of its use of the original story machinations as well as much of the song order (many situations, settings, and songs were scrambled a bit for the movie... producing, frankly, better results).

Thankfully, two of the original stage show songs have been deleted from this production as they were for the film adaptation ("How Can Love Survive" and "An Ordinary Couple"), which, believe me, no one will miss a bit. And like most newer and post-film stage revivals of the show, the much-loved "Something Good," one of two original songs written especially for the movie, has made it onto this La Mirada production as well.

The family-friendly show itself is a sensory feast for those of all ages seeking localized Broadway-esque thrills at a more affordable price point. From Adam Koch's visually-arresting scenic designs (beautifully lit by Jared A. Sayeg) to Deborah Roberts' vintage-looking costume designs (enhanced by Kaitlin Yagen's hair and makeup work), this production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC looks and feels like a large budget revival in New York City. Arthur L. Ross provided swoon-worthy choreography. And, most impressively, the lush, grand sounds from the show's assembled orchestra---under the baton of musical director Dennis Castellano and engineered by sound designer Josh Bessom---are just gorgeous.

But what is, however, quite wonderfully progressive about this new production is in its bravura casting of the talented Diane Phelan in the lead role of Maria, the musically-inclined nun-turned-nanny-turned Mama von Trapp. As far as I can recall, I have never seen an Asian-American (yay!) play the role of Maria, and to see this kind of significant representation on stage, naturally, made me feel giddy and proud. Even better is that she actually excels in the role, giving her Maria not only a heavenly melodic voice, but also the acting chops to boot.

BWW Review: Audience Favorite THE SOUND OF MUSIC Sings Once More in La Mirada
Christopher Carl, Diane Phelan, and the von Trapp children in
La Mirada Theatre's THE SOUND OF MUSIC

Though it took some getting used to accepting the perceived age gap between Phelan's Maria and Carl's Captain Von Trapp, it dissipated a bit once you meet the adorable children. Alongside big sis Leisl played by Rosen, the audience will adore the von Trapp kids played by Weston Bagley (Friedrich), Ashley Gallo (Louisa), Oliver Stewart (G*d bless Kurt!), Alma Marian (Brigitta), Erin Yoonsuh Choi (Marta), and Kayla Anjali (Gretl).

The adults in the room fared even better. Carl's vocals deeply resonated, and glazed with longing during his "Edelweiss." Guzmán's Mother Abbess has commanding regalness to her and her "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" is a real standout. Her fellow nuns Sister Berthe (Jennifer Leigh Warren), Sister Margaretta (Linda Griffin), and Sister Sophia (Janna Cardia, who also plays housekeeper Frau Schmidt) all were a harmonious hoot in the playful song "Maria." I enjoyed the subtle sassy comic interplay between Rusinek's Max and Javien's Elsa, though, admittedly, I do miss the slight naughtiness and jealous competitiveness that was more overtly pronounced in the characterization of Elsa in the film version. Here, Elsa is less of a threat to Maria (and vice versa) and the character's sole point of conflict is that she's willing to put up with the Nazis while her fiancé will not.

But perhaps my favorite vocal moments most of all is whenever the full cast of nuns from the Nonberg Abbey sing their hearts and spirits out. They all sounded glorious and provided a fitting vocal punctuation to the show's finale with triumph and gusto.

Overall, THE SOUND OF MUSIC at La Mirada is a grand, earnestly impressive new production of a familiar show that will evoke nostalgic feelings of an enduring musical that many have loved for decades. It may be old-fashioned. It may be a bit dated and corny. It may even be a bit too saccharine. But watching this entertaining production will have your heart wanting to sing every song it hears.

Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ.

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Photos by Jason Niedle courtesy of La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts.

Performances of the McCoy Rigby Entertainment presentation of THE SOUND OF MUSIC at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts continue through Sunday, May 15, 2022. The theater is located at 14900 La Mirada Boulevard in the city of La Mirada. Parking is Free. For tickets, visit www.LaMiradaTheatre.com or call (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310.



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