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BWW Review: Tepid THE SOUND OF MUSIC at PPAC

THE SOUND OF MUSIC, the classic tale of love, music and Nazis is having its 50 year anniversary, and while it's very exciting to see this much-loved production back on the road, there are quite a few hiccups that make this production a little underwhelming to watch. Despite amazing vocal talents among the cast, and the adorable pack of Von Trapp children, the distinct lack of chemistry between Captain Von Trapp and Maria, and Leisl and Rolf sucks a lot of the much-needed tension out of the story and leaves us with a story that's very nice, but not very compelling.

The stage production begins, as the movie does, at the abbey where Maria is a postulant, and where Maria frequently fails to show up for vespers since she is up on the mountain singing. We first meet the nuns and Mother Abbess, in this production played by Melody Betts. Betts is a late addition to the cast, and despite her phenomenal vocal chops, her interactions with the rest of the actors seem a bit uncertain and unpracticed. Rather than the forceful Mother Abbess she should be, she frequently seems to hesitate, which undermines her authority, and makes the longer scenes she helms drag a bit.

In particular, the scenes between her and Maria, played by Kerstin Anderson seem to plod on for much longer than necessary. Anderson has a voice as clear and bright as a morning bell, but her stage presence is decidedly lacking. It may be due to this, or to the difference in the stage production versus the movie, which spends much more time on Captain Von Trapp's political convictions, but in a play where the audience is supposed to really love Maria, it's rather difficult to actually get to that point emotionally. While there is nothing particularly poor about Anderson's performance, it's just rather underwhelming.

This could also be the fault of the direction and movement, which are staid. When Maria sings The Sound of Music, rather than embracing 'her mountain' and reveling in nature, she is just standing on a bridge for the entire song. One obviously can't expect her to run all over the stage, but she clung to the bridge like a barnacle and stayed right there for a full three minutes.

The other low point was during the classic Sixteen Going on Seventeen, sung by Captain Von Trapp's eldest daughter Leisl and the telegram delivery boy Rolf. What is supposed to be a song about young adulation where Leisl is impetuous and Rolf is responsible and careful with her feelings, instead became Leisl throwing herself at a man who seemed physically repulsed by her. It was honestly uncomfortable to watch as Rolf picked up his bicycle at one point and seemed to use it as a shield against the sexually aggressive young girl. Paige Silvester as Leisl did a fantastic job in all of her scenes, especially against such a bland romantic partner, but the stark contrast between her over-the-top ardor and his complete disinterest turned what is usually a very adorable scene with a great song into something that was just creepy.

Despite some hiccups and low points, there are a few bright spots in this production. Funnily enough, one of those bright spots was Ben Davis as Captain Von Trapp. Davis managed to take what is probably the most boring and wooden character in musical theatre and inject him with some life and personality. Though much of Von Trapp's dialogue is uninteresting, Davis instead focused his physical performance on humanizing this father of seven by embracing his children at many points, kissing their heads and doing what came off as comforting fatherly gestures that cemented his professed love for his progeny. These moments were particularly notable when contrasted with the stern military bearing Davis conveyed for much of the production. It's impressive to manage to say so much physically, especially in a production where much of the other actors' movements seemed like an afterthought.

The other standout performance of the night goes to Merwin Foard as Max Detweiler. Max is Captain Von Trapp's friend who organizes musical and cultural events, and who is inordinately proud of the fact that he has no political convictions and will get along with anyone--even Nazis. He's a self-preservationist of the highest order, but as such, must needs be incredibly charming and smooth, which Foard absolutely nailed. Even as Max was saying things that history has proven to be exactly the wrong thing to side with, he's still incredibly charming and someone you just want to have a drink with--of course, he wouldn't be paying.

This is a show that ardent fans of the movie will likely enjoy, but not one that will knock your socks off. The vocal talents of the cast are undeniable, and the sets and lighting visually stunning, but everything seems a bit underutilized. All of the pieces are here to create a spectacular production, but they don't quite come together in the way they should.

THE SOUND OF MUSIC runs Mar 9 - 13 at Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset St, Providence RI. Tickets available at PPACri.org or by calling (401) 421-ARTS (2787)

Photo: L to R Svea Elizabeth Johnson as Brigitta, Audrey Bennett as Gretl, Quinn Erickson as Kurt, Kerstin Anderson as Maria, Mackenzie Currie as Marta, Maria Suzanne Knasel as Louisa, Jeremy Michael Lanuti as Friedrich and Paige Silvester as Leisl.


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