Alive with Music: SOUND OF MUSIC Stars Open MSMT Library Series

SOUND OF MUSIC Stars Open MSMT Library Series

By: Jun. 18, 2022
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Alive with Music: SOUND OF MUSIC Stars Open MSMT Library Series

For two weeks now Brunswick's Pickard Theater has been "alive with the sound of music,' but on June 15 Hanley Smith and Will Ray, the stars of MSMT's brilliant new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's THE SOUND OF MUSIC, joined MSMT Artistic Director Curt Dale Clark and BWW Maine Regional Editor Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold to celebrate the joy, inspiration, and continued resonance of this timeless musical at the first Peek Behind the Curtain program in three years. The popular panel discussion series held at Curtis Memorial Library returned to an enthusiastic, capacity audience for an hour of conversation about what Clarkcalled "the quintessential American musical and the perfect show to launch post-pandemic MSMT's Revival Season."

The discussion was both lively and heartfelt covering such topics as THE SOUND OF MUSIC's historical roots and present-day context, the actors' relationship with their characters, the musical and visual values of the production, and the significance of these performances for the panel personally and in the larger context. Here are a few of the highlights of the conversation not previously covered in earlier interviews.

Smith and Ray share their story about opening a prior production of the musical on February 24 at the Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, PA. - the very day Russia invaded Ukraine. Smith tells a moving personal story about her husband's Ukrainian grandmother which parallels in an uncanny way the story of Maria and Georg von Trapp. Maria (as she was named) became an au pair to a widower with many children and went on to marry him. During World War II they "were plucked off the street one day as they were out grocery shopping and sent to a German work camp." Maria and her husband Alexander and their children eventually came to the United States after the war. Says Smith, "When I am playing this role, [Maria von Trapp] I think of my Maria's story. I try to honor them and so many others who suffer and continue to suffer in this world and who deserve our dedication to a better world."

Ray recalls "standing on the stage at the Fulton with those Nazi flags for the first time and getting a sickening feeling. Singing 'Bless my homeland forever' and knowing history was repeating itself was perhaps the most powerful experience I have ever had on stage."

At the mention of the Nazi flags, Clark recounts a story about the Marriott Lincolnshire's production of the musical and the pressure that theatre received to remove the flags from the stage because they were disquieting to some of the public. The theatre acquiesced. "I want to go on record to say that I think pretending something didn't happen or erasing it is a huge mistake. That emblem should be seen as something to unite us all against what it represents."

The panel also talked about the liberties Rodgers and Hammerstein and their book writers, Lindsay and Crouse, took with historical accuracy, including the way the von Trapps actually fled - by train to Italy - and with the characters themselves. Ray cites the fact that his character is much younger in this production which makes the romance more believable. And Smith recounts how in real life Maria was the austere one and Georg the warmer. Both say they rely on the text of the musical's book to shape their interpretations. Smith says she started with the clues given in the song ABOUT Maria, "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria" which describes her as a "flibberty-gib, a willowy wisp, a clown."

Clark adds, "Text is key. I feel homage must be paid to the people who wrote the piece at all times, and that homage comes from the text. Lyrics sung about a character are gold."

The entire panel waxes eloquent about the children in the show - a sentiment shared by the audience. Smithsays, "I really love children. I don't think you can play Maria if you don't adore kids. I am so protective of their joy."

Ray talks about how he and Smith came a week early to rehearse with MSMT's children's ensemble. "We wanted to build a rapport and get to know them." He describes with more than a little emotion the scene which serves as a turning point for von Trapp after he and Maria "have had a blowout fight and he hears his children singing, and it reminds him of his wife and the sheer joy that used to fill the house. When I hear those sweet, wonderful kiddos singing each night [in that scene], I am not acting. I am a weeping mess."

A woman in the audience offers a touching story about how she encountered the children after a performance in downtown Brunswick, and told them how much, as a teacher, their performance had moved her "and made my day." The children gave her a program signed by the entire cast. (They had collected the signatures and taken the program with them with the plan to give it to anyone who might speak to them.) She is in tears as she narrates what happened.

Clark adds one more story about an emotional experience with the children. "I was backstage on the night when the alternate cast of girls was going on for the first time and I watched Hanley hug each one and tell them how excited she was to be performing with them that night. It made my heart explode because this is something they will never forget."

While the hour-long discussion touched on many other topics including the musical virtues of the piece and the production choices in creating MSMT's staging, inevitably the conversation returned to the intangible aspects of this project. Curt Dale Clark summed it up when he spoke of Smith and Ray and the entire cast as "caring so deeply about what they do. They all have heart in spades!"

That caring and sense of deep responsibility to Rodgers and Hammerstein's work and to the characters and values THE SOUND OF MUSIC embodies is, without a doubt, what has made this MSMT production soar. Hanley Smith says succinctly, "Things like family, love, faith, and music do have power and do matter. In 1938 and in 2022."

Will Ray concurs, saying, "I hope the audience is able to walk away feeling the same way we do every night when we leave the theatre - filled with hope and light."

THE SOUND OF MUSIC continues at MSMT's Pickard Theater until June 25, 2022. 207-725-8769

Photo Credit: MSMT, Ally Collins, photobrapher