Saturday, July 23, 2005

The Sound of Music (Carousel)

‘THE SOUND OF MUSIC’ hits right notes at Carousel

‘THE SOUND OF MUSIC,’ which is now on stage at Carousel Dinner Theatre, is one of the most beloved and produced musicals of all time. The show, with music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, and a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, opened on Broadway on November 16, 1959, and starred Mary Martin as Maria and Theodore Bikel as Captain von Trapp.

Most theatre-goers are familiar with the story. In Salzburg, Austria, Maria, a young novice, is sent from her convent to be the governess of the seven children of Captain von Trapp, a widowed naval commander. The children, initially hostile and mischievous, come to like her, and she finds herself falling in love with the captain. He is to be married to a baroness but he marries Maria instead. The Nazis take power in Austria as part of the Anschluss, and want Captain von Trapp to serve in the Reich’s Navy. During a singing performance at a musical competition the whole family manages to flee and “climb every mountain” to Switzerland.

This is a true story, right? Well, not exactly. Some details of the von Trapp tale were altered for the play and the film. The real Maria was sent to be a nurse for one of the children, not to be a governess to all of them. The Captain's eldest child was a boy, not a girl, and the names of the children were changed to avoid confusion, as the Captain's eldest daughter was also named Maria. Also, the von Trapps spent some years in Austria after Maria and the Captain married in 1927. They did not have to flee right away. And when they did leave they fled to Italy, not Switzerland.

The film version, which was released in 1965, was named Best Picture of the Year. Hammerstein died before the movie was made, and the two songs that were added to the film’s score ("I Have Confidence" and "Something Good") were written solely by Rodgers.

How did the show come to be? In 1956 Vincent Donahue, a well known director, saw a German film called "The Trapp Family Singers." He proposed to Mary Martin’s husband that a stage musical with the score to consist of von Trapp songs star Martin. Rogers and Hammerstein, who were hired to write only one new song, eventually proposed an entirely fresh score. In March, 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein laid out the placement of the songs using a book prepared by Lindsay and Crouse. One of the difficulties faced by Richard Rodgers, who was Jewish, was that of writing Catholic ecclesiastical music. To add to the problems, while working on the lyrics Hammerstein was diagnosed with stomach cancer. In spite of the difficulties, on the 14th October 1959 the show opened in Boston. During that tryout the musical duo felt the show needed a signature number. So, one song was added--”Edelweiss.” (No, “Edelweiss” is not the Austrian national anthem. It was created specifically for ‘THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Austrians never heard the song before the musical was produced there.) It was the last song ever written by the most prolific of musical theatre teams.

On November 16th the show opened on Broadway. The reviews were mixed, mainly praising the score and criticizing the sentimentality of the play. In spite of the reviews the show lasted over three-and-a-half years on the Great White Way, thus becoming the second longest running Broadway musical of the fifties.

The Carousel production, under the direction of Mitzi Hamilton, will generally please audiences in spite of the fact that it is stilted and drops some of the material’s emotional triggers. Part of this is due to some of the performers, but it is mainly due to Hamilton’s heavy handed interpretation. For example, the van Trapp children, who were noted for driving away nanny’s with their mischievous tricks, show no negative reaction to Maria when she first arrives. Therefore, there is none of the winning over which makes the Maria role so endearing and pivotal. The foreshadowing of the eventual break up of the Captain and his fiance is lost because Niclole Haimos’s Elsa isn’t aloof enough. Also, some of the cast seems on automatic pilot, moving and responding with stilted smiles, robot-like movements and a lack of spontaneity.

Cristin Mortenson is effervescent as Maria. Whenever she comes on stage she shines like a moonbeam! Her characterization is right on target and her voice is glorious. The same can be said for Sharon Alexander, The Mother Abbess. Her version of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” is worth the price of admission and, fortunately you get to hear it twice--at the end of each act.

The nuns are glorious. Their vocal sounds are pure beauty. The children are all acceptable, but often too preprogrammed to stand and smile and look childlike...they lack the needed impishness. The usual delightful “So Long, Farewell” lacks playfulness and charm.

Ray Luetters is unbelievable as Captain von Trapp. He seems uncomfortable, his acting is on the surface and his singing voice is not up to the requirements of the role. Adam Crawford is physically right for Rolf, the oldest van Trapp daughter’s suitor, but moves too automatically, especially in what should be the enchanting, “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.”

The sets and costumes are excellent, as are the orchestrations.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Carousel’s ‘THE SOUND OF MUSIC’ will please most audience members. It’s a shame that director Mitzi Hamilton found it necessary to stilt some of the enthusiasm and delight of the show.