Rudi Arrowood & Emma Alley Of Charleston Light Opera Guild's Upcoming Production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Charleston Light Opera Guild is kicking off 2020 with their highly anticipated production of the classic The Sound of Music, set to debut on January 17th at The Clay Center in the Maier Performance Hall.
The Sound of Music was Rodgers and Hammerstein's last collaboration, due to Hammerstein's untimely death just nine months after the show's Broadway debut in 1959. The show earned five Tony awards and eventually was made into a beloved feature film in 1965 starring Julie Andrews.
Set in 1938, The Sound of Music tells the story of Maria Rainer, a woman attempting to live the life of a nun, despite her obvious lack of suitability for that lifestyle. Sensing Maria's love of freedom and the outside world, the Governess sends her to Captain George Von Trapp's home - an acclaimed captain known for being stubborn and strict - to help care for his seven children, hoping to help Maria find her true calling.
During her time with the Von Trapp's, Maria and oldest child Leisl form a strong bond, a bond which helps each throughout the trying times ahead.
I spoke with Rudy Arrowood (Maria) and Emma Alley (Leisl) about their thoughts on the show and the journey in bringing this classic to life.
"I have never played a role like this before," explained Arrowood. "I've always been the best friend or the goofy blonde in the shows I've been in. So, this is a massive change from what I've been used to, but it's a change I've loved. This is the kind of role I grew up loving and the kind that made me fall in love with musical theater."
With such a prominent role, came months of preparation.
"It has required a lot of extra time," said Arrowood. "Working on proper inflection and projection with my speech, constant line repetitions, and obviously the singing is a huge challenge. There are very few scenes where my character isn't doing a lot of singing and movement."
Despite her love of the musical, Arrowood admits that she doubted she'd get the role of Maria.
"Honestly, I never thought I had a shot at this role. I'd be lying if I said the little girl in me that grew up on Rodgers & Hammerstein didn't long to sing those iconic songs that have become such a staple in the theatre, but I prepared other characters' songs for my audition. The Sound of Music and I Have Confidence were two songs I always adored, so I went into the audition room sill feeling more comfortable with them. The rest is history!"
Tackling a role so iconic brings up unavoidable comparisons to Julie Andrews, so I asked Arrowood about the struggles to create her own take on Maria.
"It is incredibly challenging. I have had some major breakdowns because I'll listen back on myself in rehearsal and say, 'this sounds nothing like Julie Andrews', but our director has stressed to me, 'You are to play the role as you - not as anyone else.' She's right. Julie Andrews is the queen - no one can be her, I have to deliver this role in my own way or it's just going to come off as a cheap imitation. Sure, she inspires moments I have onstage, but so does Mary Martin, so does Carrie Underwood. I'm playing Maria as a bit of a tomboy striving to be the best version of herself. But she's also confused and looking to belong somewhere. The leading ladies in the latest touring versions of this show have done a phenomenal job with that, so hopefully I'll be able to find that balance."
Maria's carefree style quickly clashes with Captain Von Trapp's stubbornness, providing much of the show's conflict.
"They're very different," explained Arrowood, "but they're ultimately striving toward the same goal - happiness and family. Maria has no family, although she develops somewhat of a family in the Abbey, despite not fitting in. The Captain has lost his wife and his children remind him too much of her, so once Maria and the Captain find one another, the molding of the perfect family begins to happen."
Arrowood went on to speak about the timeless themes and why, after more than 60 years, the show still appeals to audiences.
"The classic themes never get old - love, family, perseverance. Not to mention, the incredibly singable lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein and the gorgeous music penned by Richard Rodgers. It's no wonder it has stuck around, you just can't help but love it. We still have wonderful modern musicals today, but there's just nothing quite like these classics."
Those familiar with the show know that the second act takes a rather dark turn, with the approaching war forcing the Von Trapp's out of their home.
"The second act definitely produces a darker element, but it adds so much to the production. This show is based on a true story, and it would be an injustice to not tell the whole story. Although there are some dark elements, it ends with inspiration and great music. In the second act, the love story comes to fruition, the iconic wedding takes place and the entire family performs together in a show stopping concert. There's no downtime in this show. It can't be missed."
While both Maria and Captain Von Trapp grow throughout the production, it might be Leisl - the oldest Von Trapp child portrayed in this production by Emma Alley - who has the greatest journey. She begins the show rather cross with Maria but eventually grows to appreciate her carefree attitude and ultimately finds a mother figure to look up to.
I asked Alley about the children's gradual transformation throughout the show and if it was fun to showcase that switch from the straight and narrow to allowing the child in her to shine.
"I believe the most blunt transition in the show is when we first meet Maria," explained Alley. "Father is very stern to us in the show. Even though most of the children haven't completely warmed up to Maria yet, she is bringing music back into our lives and that really gives us a bit of hope that she could make things better."
As the show progresses, Leisl and Maria's relationship grows.
"I believe Leisl has a connection with Maria because she has a strong appreciation for her. When her mother died, her father became cold and stern and Leisl was pretty much left alone to care for the children even though she was still young and naïve. Maria takes the time to teach Leisl different things about love and takes on the role of her mother, caring for her after her father neglected her and her siblings for so long."
While the show focuses on Maria, you could argue that the show is as much about Leisl's journey into womanhood. From her first love to her first heartbreak, Leisl grows tremendously throughout.
"Playing Leisl has been a dream come true," said Alley. "Leisl has a huge range because she has to sort of mother the children and care for them because her father is so stern. Then she falls in love and gets her heart broken, which makes her very relatable. Leisl has to remain strong in the show as the oldest child. She learns that she needs to put on a brave face even when her father's fate is unknown and her first love has turned against her. The final step of Leisl's growth in the show is when she has to leave her home and everything she's known to flee from the Nazis. "
"I'm very honored and grateful to get to play Leisl in this production," added Alley.
The Sound of Music will have performances on January 17th, 18th, and 25th at 7:30 PM and January 19th, 25th, and 26th at 2:00 PM. Tickets can be purchased online for $28.50 each. All photos courtesy of Brian Marrs.