BWW Review: Fresh-Faced THE SOUND OF MUSIC at The Paramount : Something Good
Rogers & Hammerstein's "The Sound of Music" has been a musical staple for generations. Currently showing at the Paramount, this touring production has all of the snow-capped mountains, starched habits, and vocal prowess one could want. The young and eager cast makes this classic feel fresh.
For those looking for a shot-for-shot copy of the beloved film adaptation starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, this musical will feel frustrating at times. There are a few musical numbers from the movie that are not in the musical (sadly "I Have Confidence", for one), and vice-versa.
It's 1938; Maria (Jill-Christine Wiley), a young Austrian woman with her head in the clouds, hopes to become a nun at Nonnberg Abbey in Salzberg, but the church is concerned about her lack of discipline. She often finds herself turning to the mountains for solace, spinning around in the meadows and singing at the top of her lungs (and singing is forbidden in the Abbey [though it is quite funny how the nuns reprimand Maria for singing in the Abbey, and how singing is strictly forbidden in the Abbey, right after wrapping up a musical number that they sang in the Abbey.]). The Mother Abbess (Lauren Kidwell) decides to send Maria away from the Abbey for a while to be a governess for a retired naval officer, Captain Georg von Trapp (Mike McLean), who raises his children militantly and strictly disciplined: he summons them via whistle, and they march in their home when in their father's presence.
Max Detweiler (Jake Mills) and Elsa Schraeder (Melissa McKamie) have two musical numbers about the importance of being complicit to Nazis. But "How Can Love Survive?" and "No Way to Stop It" add a conniving layer to Max and Elsa, making their passivity towards the war feel intentional and dangerous. Max is not just a slimy mooch, and Elsa is not just an aloof hottie with money. They're dangerous, and Mills and McKamie do a great job capitalizing on making that known during these musical numbers. Lauren Kidwell's Mother Abbess is not a stoic sage that can hit crazy high notes, but a dynamic, emotional human being who frets and can be silly (and hit crazy high notes). Jill-Christine Wiley's Maria Rainer is fresh-faced and carefree. As someone who has never been a governess before, she navigates the daunting task with ease, booping the children on the nose with her index finger. Though Wiley's Maria feels young, she's charming, and seems to really have her act together. Any problem can be solved with a little singing and pantomiming. Mike McLean emotes the second he marches onto the stage, gold whistle in hand. He's strict, but not scary or cold. Frankly, his approachability humanizes him in a way that makes much more sense as Maria's romantic companion. McLean's Georg looks and behaves like a slightly stricter and slightly less available Disney prince. This production does a good job creating chemistry between Maria and the Captain that is easy to buy in to in the same way it's easy to buy in to the expedited love between a Disney prince and princess (this Captain's even got the stature and tan of a Disney prince). It's a bit treacly, even in Nazi-riddled Austria, but, then again, how realistic does a musical really need to be?
Lauren Kidwell belts the house down with "Climb Every Mountain", and all seven von Trapp children give delightful (not to mention adorable) performances. They all get automatic props for actually looking the age they portray. Unfortunately, Chad P. Campbell as Rolf looks a bit more like seventeen going on twenty-five, which makes his externalized internal conflict of whether to pursue sixteen-year-old Leisl (a lot of dramatic, "he-wants-to-but-he-can't-BUT-HE-WANTS-TO" physicality) feel more lecherous than I think the song intended. And his cut off lederhosen make him look even more like a twenty-something trying to pass as a teen.
Set designer Douglas W. Schmidt does a great job creating depth through clever foreshortening and clever window placement. The Vienna mountain vista backdrop tapers off at the top, making it feel unfinished, but that's mainly due to the level of intricacy in the rest of the set design (floor-to-ceiling filigree, photo-realistic city squares, etc.). The costumes, too, are streamlined and crisp; Maria and Elsa's 1930s daywear is very chic.
All of the components of this specific adaptation are seamless, shiny, and correct. This is a musically exceptional production with beautiful costumes and set design. I give this plucky adaptation of a classic a nostalgic and satisfied A-. Does this production improve upon the original? No, but it's streamlined, and gives nostalgic audience members what they're looking for.
"The Sound of Music" performs at The Paramount through September 11, 2017. For tickets and information, visit them online at www.thesoundofmusicontour.com.
*Update (9/11/17): Lauren Kidwell's name has been updated with its proper spelling.
*Update (9/11/17): Liesl's name has been updated with its proper spelling.
*Update (9/11/17: Jill-Christine Wiley's name has been updated with its proper spelling.