BWW Review: The Phoenix Theatre Company Presents THE SOUND OF MUSIC
I must confess, at the outset of this review of The Phoenix Theatre Company's production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, that, aside from revisiting the inspirational story of the von Trapp Family and delighting in Rodgers and Hammerstein's eternally uplifting score, I was eagerly looking forward to Trisha Ditsworth's performance as Maria. During the last several years, this artist, in one role after another (from Mary Poppins to Sister Mary Robert), has demonstrated impressive versatility and range, enough to be regarded as one of the brightest lights of this region's musical theatre.
Now, as the postulant nun of Nonnberg Abbey turned governess (a role that she performed to deservedly great acclaim in Arizona Broadway Theatre's 2013 production of the show), Ditsworth delivers another commanding plus nuanced performance. With a voice of crystalline clarity and a charm that sweeps (and skips) across the stage, she embodies the description of Maria as "a flibbertygibbet, a will-o'-the-wisp, a clown." When assigned to oversee the seven von Trapp children, she becomes the authoritative pied piper of song. When she and the children's father fall in love, she manifests genuine romance and devotion. And, when the time comes to flee the Nazi peril and take to her beloved Alps, she is the fearless protectress of her family. All told, Ditsworth travels this arc of development with authenticity and infectious zest.
If the rest of the production, directed by Jeff Whiting, was as finely crafted as Ms. Ditsworth's performance, we'd have a masterpiece to report. As it is, the show is pretty standard fare, equipped enough with some additional standout performances, Robert Kovach's lovely set pieces (albeit the set-ups and blocking are at times cumbersome), and, of course, the always reliable and memorable songs, to enthrall all comers, but lacking those elements that would heighten the drama, render the relationships believable, and further stoke the emotions.
I found the portrayal of Captain von Trapp (Mark Epperson) unfortunately unconvincing, lacking the weight of military bearing and officiousness, as well as a widower's grief, that would make his eventual vulnerability and affection for Maria all the more endearing. That melding of command and vulnerability does become more palpable in the final scenes as the family prepares to escape.
The portrayals of the seven von Trapp children (local actors all) are delightful, with exceptional turns by Elyssa Blonder as Liesl and (in the performance I attended) Henry Hunsaker as Kurt.
Grace and harmony preside over the entire show in the form of the Sisters of Nonnberg Abbey. From their opening a capella chant of Dixit Dominus (selected verses from Psalm 109), they radiate both reverence and wit. At their lead is Joy Lynn Jacobs as the Mother Abbess whose delivery of Climb Every Mountain is absolutely stirring.
All told, here's the bottom line: The show, featuring a stellar performance by Trisha Ditsworth, is a fully entertaining experience and should serve as perfect holiday fare for the family.
THE SOUND OF MUSIC will run through December 29th in the The Phoenix Theatre Company's Mainstage Theatre.
Photo credit to Reg Madison Photography