"The Sound of Music": Mit Schlag

Jill-Christine Wiley & The Cast of "The Sound of Music"
(photo: Matthew Murphy)
You want schlag with that? Some theatrical productions overdo the extra whipped cream and fall into the trap of excess schmalz. Miraculously, the current national tour of the universally beloved chestnut The Sound of Music, manages to avoid the extremes as they compete with an audience's cherished memories of views of the Austrian countryside in the film version or the various star turns on stage and screen in presenting the story of the original Trapp Family Singers. Most people undoubtedly number this musical as one of their favorite things, and why not? It boasts one of the finest scores by Composer Richard Rodgers and Lyricist Oscar Hammerstein (their last collaboration), provided the basis for one of the most beloved family films ever, and made a huge impact on tourism to Salzburg. Fans upset that Julie Andrews was passed over for Eliza Doolittle in the film version of My Fair Lady (and played by Audrey Hepburn, dubbed by Marnie Nixon) could finally forgive Hollywood (while alienating fans of Mary Martin in the process; what goes around comes around). Thus you might be more than a bit pleasantly surprised to see just how good this current version is.

Lauren Kidwell & Jill-Christine Wiley in "The Sound of Music"
(photo: Matthew Murphy)

When the show opened on Broadway in 1959 it earned five Tony Awards including Best Musical, and received a mixed reception among some of the more vitriolic New York critics. Perhaps the weakest creative element in the show was the sanitized Book by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse, which only occasionally reminded audiences about the annexation of Austria by Germany (the infamous Anschluss) and made their exodus over the Alps far more dramatic than the reality of their emigration. It's fitting that two songs from the original stage version that were dropped for the film, How Can Love Survive? and No Way to Stop It, each more politically aware, are intact in this version, replacing songs written by Rodgers for the film (after Hammerstein's death), such as I Have Confidence.

This production, in Boston until May 13th, boasts a cast and creative crew that belie the old “bus and truck national tour” paradigm. Not only are there fine singing actors and unexpected delights from the scenic and costume designers, but we're treated to a crucial and brilliantly sung performance of the Mother Abbess by a local graduate of Boston Conservatory, Lauren Kidwell. Also very memorable are Maria (Jill-Christine Wiley), Captain Von Trapp (Mike McLean), Liesl (Keslie Ward) and the other children, Louisa (Sienna Berkseth), Kurt (Matthew Law), Marta (Amaryllis C. Miller), Friedrich (Paul Schoeller), Brigitta (Valerie Wick) and the adorable Gretl (Sophia Massa). The “heavies”, if you will, are Rolf (Chad P. Campbell), Max (Jake Mills) and Elsa (Melissa McKamie). The creative contributions include the original direction by Jack O'Brien, as well as Tour Director Matt Lenz, Original choreography by Denny Mefford, as well as Tour Choreographer Jonathan Warren, Musical Direction and Conducting by Michael Uselmann, Scenic Design by Douglas W. Schmidt, Costume Design by Jane Greenwood, Lighting Design by Natasha Katz and Sound Design by Shannon Slaton. All are in fine form for a touring production, which you owe it to yourself to enjoy. One of the realities you may have forgotten was that shows back in those days had songs that advanced the story.

Mike McLean & the Cast of "The Sound of Music"
(photo: Matthew Murphy)

The show has some significant Boston history: during its local pre-Broadway tryout, the song “Eidelweiss” was written in the men's room lounge of the Shubert Theatre, across the street from its current home at the Boch Center Wang Theatre. Or so theater legend goes. It may be of interest that the true life Trapp Family built (and still operates) their own lodge in the Alpine-like village of Stowe, Vermont. This critic once spent a delightful weekend there in a friend's time share. And there wasn't a Lonely Goatherd in sight.


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