BWW Review: THE SOUND OF MUSIC Delights All Ages
Opening to a warm and receptive full house on Tuesday night, the national tour of the Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's iconic favorite, THE SOUND OF MUSIC proved to be an evening you simply mustn't miss. Whether you are seeking to introduce your child or grandchild to the warm and familiar music and storyline that you grew up with, or if you're a die-hard musical junkie that follows every article of Playbill or BroadwayWorld for the latest news, rest assured that while three-time Tony Award winning Director Jack O'Brien has dutifully kept the ever-important timeless aspects of this gorgeous story, he has also successfully taken a vintage piece of musical theater and updated subtle elements of its execution with some of the hottest up-and-coming talent in what is arguably one of the most well-known, well-loved musicals of all time.
Set in Austria on the eve of the Anschluss in 1938, the musical tells the story of young Postulant, Maria Rainer, who is ordered by the Mother Abbess of Nonnberg Abbey to take a job as governess of a large family led by widower Captain Georg von Trapp. In her journey within her decision whether or not to return to her life within the Abbey, she falls in love with the children, and eventually their father, as well. But very soon after their marriage, von Trapp is ordered to accept a commission in the German navy, though he vehemently opposes the Nazis. Georg and Maria then quickly decide on a plan to flee Austria with the children.
Within this particular production, there were many well-constructed, beautiful scenes, but the most powerful moments were within the opening scene, "Preludium", in which the Nuns of Nonnberg Abbey displayed an exquisitely beautiful blend that seemed sent directly from heaven; in the fresh, updated approach of "My Favorite Things", in which Maria and the Mother Abbess not only blend brilliantly together in a perfect tandem of voice but also in their shared moment within their characters; in the Mother Abbess' gorgeously intense delivery of "Climb Ev'ry Mountain", which I will most certainly describe in greater length, as this scene was the most powerful of the evening; and in Georg von Trapp's heartbreakingly beautiful moment of "Edelweiss", as he is forced to deliver a performance with his family before a terrifying backdrop of enormous Swastikas, reminding us of the importance of defying hate and extremism in a torn world.
On one of the most beautiful set designs that I have ever seen, Douglas W. Schmidt has constructed incredible moving set pieces with such attention to detail, that every moment from the visually arresting Nonnberg Abbey, to the gorgeous Trapp Villa, to the lush Austrian mountain backdrop, Schmidt has seemingly created into an exquisite vintage lace tapestry around which this fresh young cast can exist as they bring this "vintage musical" to life again for a modern audience. As characters move from scene to scene, the set pieces are choreographed to move as well, as if the cast and set move together as a duet.
Embracing the iconic role of Maria Rainer, Kerstin Anderson brought an extremely youthful approach to her character. Just having completed her sophomore year at Pace University in NYC, she is no doubt one of the youngest Marias cast in Broadway history. Though her voice may lack the power and agility of range her predecessors may have possessed along with the depth and fire in their character, there is no doubt as to why she was chosen for this role. Anderson is a very smart performer, chock full of fresh and modern choices, and bubbling with youthful nuance that is a pure joy to watch. She keeps the energy of Maria lighthearted, quick-witted and honest, and there were many subtle moments that she reinvented for her audience.
Other highlights of the evening included powerful performances by Ben Davis as Captain Georg von Trapp, whose gorgeous voice and presence can easily melt any audience. His performance of "Edelweiss" didn't leave a dry eye in the house; Merwin Foard as Max Detweiler, whose full operatic resonance and quick witted delivery stole every scene he was in; Paige Silvester, as Liesl, whose charismatic presence not only lit up the stage, but whose beautiful dance technique also left me wanting so much more from the choreographer in "Sixteen Going On Seventeen"; and last but not least, Ashley Brown in the role of Mother Abbess, who delivered one of the most powerful performances of "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" that I will ever hear. Ms. Brown "brought down the house" with this scene, and it is no great surprise that this she has already won critical acclaim for her performances in Show Boat and Oklahoma! with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The von Trapp children were all very charming, and each had their very own individual flavor of playfulness. Covering every range in character from the "tattle-tail", to the independent leader, to the budding "ladies man", the children were a joy to watch, and there is no doubt that many audience members were present to welcome cast member Quinn Erickson back to Austin as he tours in his role of Kurt.
Playing at Bass Concert Hall this week only, the national tour of the Broadway revival of THE SOUND OF MUSIC will be playing now through Feb. 28 as a part of the Broadway in Austin series, presented by the University of Texas at Austin and Texas Performing Arts. For tickets, please visit http://texasperformingarts.org/season/sound-of-music-broadway-austin-2016 .