BWW Review: THE SOUND OF MUSIC at Music Theatre Wichita, A thought-provoking musical still poignant to our times

Opening Night. There's nothing like it in the world. Jitters can occur. Mistakes could happen. One hopes everything comes together and the rehearsal time and hard work has paid off. Luckily, for Music Theatre Wichita's producing artistic director Wayne Bryan, opening night was nothing short of absolute shear success for his season opener The Sound of Music. Music Theatre Wichita is in its 48th year.

We all know what happens in The Sound of Music. We have seen the 1965 film starring Julie Andrews, which Bryan confessed during his pre-curtain speech he admittedly watched repeatedly upon its cinematic release. The stage version, however, is a little different than the film with additional songs and overall sequential order of scenes and events. Which came first? The stage version, of course, premiering on Broadway in 1959, featuring Mary Martin who had an apparent good-working relationship with Rodgers and Hammerstein. She was also used for their previous work South Pacific. One final music theatre history lesson: Richard Rodgers composed the music while Oscar Hammerstein II wrote the lyrics. Bryan, a true walking musical theatre encyclopedia, has an abundance of wonderful information before the show and especially during his KMUW interview that can be listened to here via this link: https://www.kmuw.org/post/musical-space-sound-music-nears-60?fbclid=IwAR09Ba6mDZ2d0hw8UiIDaJ9QfVnZzS8SdBmDMYR2pzRWwQHtQzv6Bsr2pmw

Music Theatre Wichita's version, though, is incredible. Theatre can be a lot of smoke and mirrors but at Century II for opening night, there was magic. You, the reader, would regret not seeing this show, one of MTW's best next to Disney's Newsies. Leading the company is Catherine Charlebois as Maria. Charlebois' voice is Broadway caliber, having appeared as Nessarose in Wicked. Right off the bat, she sings the iconic song "The Sound of Music" effortlessly with rich sound and poise. Her energetic portrayal as governess is fun to watch too, particularly when signing "Do-Re-Me" with the Von Trapp children. Opposite Charlebois is Mike McGowan in the role of Captain Von Trapp. McGowan is appropriately commanding when necessary yet can be soft and tender, especially during his rendition of "Edelweiss" showing both patriotism and purity to country. There's even a stage kiss McGowan and Charlebois have to execute and it's romantically believable.

The Von Trapp children are all well-cast and take responsibility to the stage seriously. All sing beautifully, particularly during "So Long, Farewell" towards the conclusion of act one. Cecilla Trippiedi and Joshua Keen sing "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" adequately, sufficiently and charmingly; not to mention danced with a single hankie gracefully to choreography done by Brian J. Marcum, with lifts, waltzing and grand battements. Karen and Tim Robu appear as stage opposites again and have nice dialogue as character duo Frau Schmidt and Franz. Their choices are dynamic and well thought out. "No Way to Stop it" was another rousing tune worth mentioning delivered by Monte Riegel Wheeler as Max Detweiler and Jennifer Byrne as Elsa Schrader at the top of act two. Wheeler's timing is perfect, picking up cues appropriately with conversational beats. Byrne's acting is undoubtedly strong with a singing voice to match. If you do go to this show, read her bio alone and you'll discover no finer actress than newcomer Byrne, whose accolades are proof in the pudding. John Boldenow, Richard Campbell, and Nicholas Davis make cameo appearances whose sole purpose is allegiance to the totalitarian state. Boldenow and Campbell have exercised voices for the stage whose lines boom with assuredness and warning.

Finally, it's worth remarking the chorus of convent nuns who do a remarkable job of acapella singing throughout the production. As an audience member, I could not tell where they were hearing their pitch from in order to sing without music but would somehow meet with the orchestra to be in tune. Was it from the 'bell tower' sound cues? Did they have a pitch pipe offstage? Was it from maestro Thomas W. Douglas, now in his 20th season? Who knows? Regardless, their Gregorian sound was vibrant and completely moving. The same can be said for the trio of head nuns, Abby Kress (Sister Berthe), Jenny Mitchell (Sister Margaretta), and Katie Banks-Todd (The Mother Abbess). Banks-Todd was especially a crowd favorite who sang the difficult song "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" with a delivery full of great breath control, phrasing, and thought-provoking conveyance ringing all the way to the balcony, where I sat. She will leave you wanting more at the conclusion of both acts. The nice thing about this Rodgers and Hammerstein musical is the songs are often repeated, so if you want to hear a melody again, there are definite reprises.

Technical achievements of lighting, costumes and set were leaps and bounds forward than I have ever seen in any MTW performance. David Neville's design for lightning gave optimal focus on where to look and progressed the story along, aiding in smooth scene transitions. Costumes, particularly on Elsa's character were striking. Fabrics flowed, coordinated, and were heightened from the stakes in the movie version. Deborah Roberts and her team are responsible for this feat. Yet it is with hands down and sincere honesty, nonetheless, Adam Koch's scenic design stole the entire show. His scenery was not a set. It was art and it was spectacular. Stunning pieces would rotate, scrims were phenomenally painted of alps and the red flag with the spider on it was commanding in act two. The set was completely well-thought out and innovative for the space. His designs have been seen in practically every regional theatre across the United States with some internationally. I would not be surprised if his designs eventually lead to Broadway, because this set was so inspiring for this musical. There were some technical bumps on opening night, particularly with sound, but all truly forgivable.

The show runs for about two and half to three hours with one fifteen-minute intermission, with remaining performances June 13-16. For ticket information be sure to call 316.265.3107 or visit mtwichita.org, where tickets can be conveniently purchased online. For the next show, An American in Paris, be sure to arrive early, as there will be a car show at the Expo Hall. Thankfully, a Music Theatre Wichita shuttle will be circling the premises to accommodate a ride from the parking areas to the front of Century II.

What: The Sound Of Music at Music Theatre Wichita

When: June 12-16

Thursday-7:30 pm

Friday-8:00 pm

Saturday-2:00 pm and 8:00 pm

Sunday-2:00 pm and 7:00 pm

Cost: $25-$70

Where: Century II Concert Hall

BWW Review: THE SOUND OF MUSIC at Music Theatre Wichita, A thought-provoking musical still poignant to our times
The Von Trapp Children with their father (Mike McGowan) and new governess Maria (Catherine Charlebois) in MTWichita's THE SOUND OF MUSIC, playing at Century II June 12-16.

BWW Review: THE SOUND OF MUSIC at Music Theatre Wichita, A thought-provoking musical still poignant to our times
Mother Superior (Katie Banks-Todd) exhorts Maria (Catherine Charlebois) to "Climb Every Mountain" THE SOUND OF MUSIC, produced by MTWichita June 12-16.

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From This Author Craig Richardson

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