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BWW Interview: SOUND OF MUSIC's Charlotte Maltby

Charlotte Maltby recently took over the leading role of Maria Von Trapp in the national tour of Rogers and Hammerstein's SOUND OF MUSIC. Under the direction of triple Tony Award winner Jack O'Brien, the production opens Tuesday, January 24th, at Omaha's Orpheum Theater. I had the opportunity to speak with Charlotte by phone yesterday.

Director Jack O'Brien said he had seen 46-year-old Mary Martin performing in the original production of SOUND OF MUSIC, and thought the role of Maria should be someone much younger since she's a postulant.

THE SOUND OF MUSIC is based on Maria Augusta Trapp's autobiography, "The Story of the Trapp Family Singers," and Maria actually was 20 when she met the Captain, so aiming her younger is much more historically accurate. In reality, she was not much older than the Captain's eldest child, which in the show is Liesl (the children's names are all different in the show than they were in real life).

Jack O'Brien referred to you as "theatrical royalty." Do you feel pressured at all by his high expectations?"

I mean, goodness! What a compliment coming from Jack O'Brien! Well, one thing that was so wonderful about working with Jack is that I've never felt pressure from him to make my Maria anything other than my own. SOUND OF MUSIC is such a famous show, especially as a movie with Julie Andrews. Yet I never felt any pressure to imitate what Julie Andrews did or that other productions have done. Our production is its own entity.

The thing is, the SOUND OF MUSIC is a perfect musical. You can go to any production of it and the audience will have a perfectly good time. I'd bet at least 75%, if not higher, of the audiences who come to see our show already know all the songs, such as "Do Re Mi" and "My Favorite Things". You can very easily get on the SOUND OF MUSIC train and sing all of the familiar songs and audiences will leave perfectly happy.

But we take great care in this production to bring this show to a deeper level and make sure it's, as Jack describes it, "not your grandmother's SOUND OF MUSIC." This production is very rich. Very nuanced. Very spontaneous and in the moment. Characters aren't singing the songs everyone knows and loves, but rather audiences are seeing us seemingly make these songs up on the spot, and witnessing the birth of their favorite tunes right before their very eyes.

So, are there some changes in this production?

It's not so much as there are changes, as most people are familiar with the movie, which is fairly different from the actual musical. The book scenes are different. It's a little more political than most people realize. And some of the songs are in a bit of a different order. It's a bit dissimilar to what most usually expect.

You mentioned the political aspects--do you feel this show is relevant to today?

Oh, absolutely! In fact, some of the scenes between the Captain and Elsa resonate in ways much more strongly than perhaps they would have in other years. It was very powerful to me when I first got to watch the show from the house. I think it's so important to be telling a story about first of all, the power of music and family, but also how difficult it is to stand up for what you think is right, and to stand up against higher powers who preach different moral beliefs than you.

I think something that's also very important is arts education, and how important music and creativity are for children as they're learning and developing. For me personally, that's a very important issue and, on a personal note, that's something that really lands with me in this show. As a kid, I went to a school that was very connected to the arts and I learned from a young age how to learn creatively. That helped me not only as an actor, but in my academic classes. Creativity and the arts are important for all children, regardless of whether the grow up to be artists and actors or doctors and lawyers.

Also, It's a musical about a family and how music brings them together. I think that's such a beautiful message as well.

I was reading about your father, Richard Maltby, Jr. I see he is a theatre director and producer, lyricist, and screenwriter. I also noticed that he was the co-bookwriter and lyricist for THE PIRATE QUEEN, which we happened to have seen on Broadway. My family loved the show! (The poster is hanging on our wall at home.) Do you feel your father is part of the reason you became involved in theater?

Well, I kind of discovered my love for performing on my own at a young age. The first show I ever did was in kindergarten, actually. I got the first taste of audience laughter, and there was pretty much no going back after that. I was sold. I mean, I was definitely surrounded by a family that loved theater, and loved the arts. Perhaps I was exposed to it more than some other kids at a young age, I went to the theater with my family a lot and I grew up in New York. But I never felt any pressure or expectation to go into the "family business", as it were. It's quite the contrary actually! My sister is a director and choreographer and my brother is a film editor and my dad always jokes, "Why couldn't one of you been a doctor or a lawyer? Why did you all have to go into the arts? Gah!"

According to Jack O'Brien, you were stunning when you auditioned. How did you prepare?

Well, for one I didn't watch the movie, which I know seems a little backward. I read the script. And in preparation for the role, I read Maria's autobiography. Because I knew this production is its own entity; it's not related to any other preexisting version of the show, I didn't want to have any other versions of the role in my head other than the actual human being that the role is based on. Getting the historical facts--and one thing that is so fortunate is that not only is the role of Maria based on an actual person, it's based on her autobiography. So reading that I got to not only hear the facts of her life, I got to hear her voice and really get a sense of who she was as a person. Not just what she did, but who she was. What a blessing that is! Such a great opportunity. Good Lord, is she an amazing woman! I had such an amazing time reading her autobiography. She is just spectacular a woman and truly a wonderful writer. It's absolutely worth reading. What a story she and this family have.

Since you travel with so many children in the show, do you feel kind of like Maria in real life?

A little bit! I've gotta say, I'm only 23 and yet something about this show and these kids is triggering my maternal alarm clock. Oh my God, these kids are delicious! It's so much fun to get to know them. When you're doing a show where you play their surrogate mother, you definitely develop a bond with them, stronger than I may have if I were playing a different role. It's so wonderful to get to know these children. They're little professionals, but really they're just kids. Our youngest kid who plays Gretl is just six years old. She's a real kid. It's so wonderful getting to play with them on stage--getting to see their spontaneity and how present they are. It's wonderful. I love being able to have this relationship with them.

Have you been to Omaha before? Do you have any perception of what it will be like?

No, I haven't and I'm so excited to go there. All I know is that it's going to be cold! I know there's the Old Market. I'm just excited to explore. That's what is so great about being on tour. We just came from Indianapolis, which is not a city I knew very much about. I had so much fun getting to know that town; getting to go to the local restaurants, getting to see their museums, and we got a private tour of their zoo. I'm having so much fun getting to know each city in our travels. I can't wait to come to Omaha and see what that city has to offer.

I met Melody Betts through Broadway Dreams Foundation, so it's fun to see that she's playing Mother Abbess.

I have so many friends who are in Broadway Dreams! It's a wonderful foundation. Melody is wonderful. She was one of the first people in the cast that I worked with when I first joined. And from the very beginning, she is just electric! She does no scene the same way every time. She is so present. When we are doing a scene together, I feel we are really listening to each other. There's a lot of trust there. I have so much fun with her because I never know exactly what's going to happen. Our relationship in the show is very- dare I say it, but Harry Potter and Dumbledore. She is the sort of head master of high authority, and I am the student that she develops a very special bond with. It's so great never knowing exactly what she, as a character of high authority, is going to do. It helps me because I'm nervous talking to the Reverend Mother, and it's so much fun playing with her. Especially because usually when she and I talk, I'm usually in trouble. Plus, I don't even have to act when she sings "Climb Every Mountain." I'm absolutely enthralled with her voice and her performance.

Is there anything else you'd like to say to your Omaha audience?

I hope I don't trip.

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From This Author Christine Swerczek