BWW Review: THE SOUND OF MUSIC Blends Realism, Romanticism at Dr. Phillips Center
There is something both familiar and jarring about the brand new North American tour of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, running at Orlando's Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts through Sunday, January 10th. While the beloved musical about a nun turned governess still has all of the iconic songs by Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (lyrics), including "My Favorite Things," "Do-Re-Mi (complete with solfege hand signs)," and the title song, this production focuses more intently on the real-world danger that the Trapp family faced leading up to the outbreak of World War II.
Under the direction of three-time Tony-winner Jack O'Brien (HAIRSPRAY, HENRY IV, THE COAST OF UTOPIA), the perspective of this often quant, deceptively nuanced musical is tilted just slightly to amplify the political realities at play in Austria during the late 1930s. These adjustments, while evident throughout, are most keenly felt in the musical's final quarter, as the finally happy family is snapped back to reality by the imminent German Anschluss of Austria.
While this aspect of the story will not be surprising to anyone familiar with THE SOUND OF MUSIC, either on stage or on screen, the reality with which O'Brien's production presents it is striking. The moment that Maria and the von Trapp children step onto the stage at the Kaltzberg Festival is one of the most shocking images you will see in a family musical.
Perhaps what makes the conclusion so powerful is the delightfully earnest and joyful production that precedes it. Led by 21-year-old Kerstin Anderson as Maria the cast skillfully moves between O'Brien's realism and Rodgers and Hammerstein's signature romanticism. Keeping with O'Brien's reimagination, Anderson's Maria is not an imitation of Julia Andrews'. Instead, this Maria is slightly awkward, with eyes wide and arms flailing, as she first learns about herself through teaching the children, and then through falling in love. Anderson does have a tendency to come off as a bit childish at times, and while it doesn't always read as authentic, it does fit with her otherwise loveable charm. Vocally, Anderson is impressive, ably bouncing back and forth between the score's more legit and theatrical songs.
While Maria is undoubtedly at the center of the show's plot, Captain von Trapp is at the center of its emotional heart. Both as the stern disciplinarian and as the doting father, Ben Davis is an immensely charismatic figure. The moment when his children's singing melts the Captain's still grieving heart is incredibly touching. If you bring tissues, try to keep your eyes on him throughout this scene.
Davis, whose Broadway career includes turns as both Enjolras and Javert in LES MISERABLES and Marcello in LA BOHÈME, displays a soothing, rich baritone; his emotional rendition of "Edelweiss" is absolutely heartbreaking.
The seven von Trapp children are all adorable, even though some seem more at home on stage than others. As Liesl, the oldest, Paige Silvester is an enchanting scene-stealer. From the moment she declares that she's 16 and doesn't need a governess to the moment that she collapses, crying in her father's arms, it is difficult not to be drawn to her on stage.
She also sounds wonderful in her duet "Sixteen Going on Seventeen," with boyfriend Rolf (Dan Tracy). However, the number's choreography by Danny Mefford seemed a little disjointed on Opening Night. Perhaps it was just a momentary hiccup, but the actors seemed to be holding back from breaking out into a more fully realized dream ballet, a la CAROUSEL or OKLAHOMA.
Merwin Foard and Teri Hansen are also entertaining as "Uncle" Max Detweiler and the Baroness Elsa Schraeder respectively. As the grounded counter to Maria's bright-eyed optimism, Hansen's Elsa is a more sympathetic version of a character that is often played as distant and aloof. Foard's Max provides a wonderful bit of comic relief, and both are of wonderful voice.
Perhaps the show's most breathtaking performance is delivered by the phenomenal Ashley Brown (Broadway's original Mary Poppins) as Mother Abbess. Though her stage time is limited, the presence and gravitas that she brings to the role is evident from the moment the curtain is lifted; and it is fortunate that "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" concludes the first act, because after her spectacular interpretation, I know that I needed the intermission to recover.
While the structure of the stage version of THE SOUND OF MUSIC differs slightly from that of the more well-known film, the tour capitalizes on the movie's iconic imagery to deliver a beautiful, first-rate production. The show's design, by Douglas W. Schmidt (Scenic), Jane Greenwood (Costume) and Natasha Katz (Lighting), who combine for 34 Tony nominations, creates an incredibly appealing cinematic experience.
Don't miss the opportunity to see this thrilling production of one of the American Musical Theatre's most enduring works. To purchase tickets, visit the Dr. Phillips Center website or call 844-513-2014.
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