Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Sound of Music

SOUND OF MUSIC climbs ev’ry mountain at Porthouse

Many consider THE SOUND OF MUSIC the greatest American musical. Others think of it as a sentimental piece of fluff. Whatever their view, few can sit and listen passively to the likes of such songs as My Favorite Things, Climb Ev’ry Mountain, Do-Re-Mi, and Maria. This is Rogers and Hammerstein at their best.

The musical centers on Maria, a young Austrian who is studying to be a nun. She is sent to be a governess for the children of Captain von Trapp, a widower who was a naval commander. Maria falls in love with the children, and the children return the love that they do not get from their overbearing father. von Trapp plans to marry a baroness, but their views of the upcoming Anschluss get in the way. Love blossoms between Maria and the Captain. The duo marries. In order to avoid Nazi rule, the family flees the country.

Interestingly, there are facts about the von Trapp family and the show itself that have been lost as viewers assume that the musical is a factual story.

The idea for the script was based on the 1956 West German film, THE TRAPP FAMILY, and its 1958 sequel. Originally it was to be made into a non-musical, written by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, that would feature songs from the repertoire of the Trapp Family Singers. Several additional songs were to be written by Rodgers(music) and Hammerstein (lyrics). Then the full-blown Rodgers and Hammerstein show was proposed. The rest is history.

An award winning Broadway show, it ran 1443 performances with Theodore Bikel and Mary Martin in the lead roles. Then it was transformed into an award winning film with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, which is generally regarded as one of the most popular films of all time.

For dramatic purposes, the actual family’s life was altered. In reality, Maria was only hired to tutor one of the children, the names and ages of the children were altered, the family spent years in Austria after Maria and the Captain were married, and, no there was no escape over the mountains. The family went by train to Italy, then to London and then to the United States.
Another misconception is that Edelweiss, the song that the von Trapp’s sing at the Salzburg Music Festival, is the Austrian national anthem. It isn’t. It is simply a song that Rogers and Hammerstein wrote as a plot device.

If you are a SOUND OF MUSIC aficionado, you’ll know that the Porthouse production includes two songs, I Have Confidence and Something Good, which were not in the Broadway production, but which Rogers wrote for the film version.

THE SOUND OF MUSIC was the last show written by Rogers and Hammerstein. Hammerstein died of cancer nine months after the Broadway premiere.

The Porthouse production, under the direction of Terri Kent, is joyous. It’s impossible not to smile your way through the show. It is the kind of happy big cast production, that Kent does so well.

The show is fleshed out by the creative choreography of MaryAnn Black. Jonathan Swoboda’s musical direction is good, but his brass section sometimes goes astray. Nolan O’Dell’s scenic designs are creative, but the many set changes become tiresome after a while.

The lovely Kayce Cummings, who has been on the Porthouse stage many times, is glorious as Maria. She exudes warmth and love. Marla Berg, she of big voice and strong vibrato, wails as the Mother Abbess. Lenne Snively is properly uptight as Sister Berthe, and Lissy Gulick is adorable as the cherubic Sister Margaretta.

Larry Nehring is fine as Captain von Trapp, though he could have been a little more strict at the start, so his transition to the nurturing father would be obvious later. Kyle Kemph sings and dances well as Rolph, Louisa’s boyfriend. He and Louisa do an excellent rendition of Sixteen Going on Seventeen. All of the children are charming, with Cameron Nelson a standout as the precocious Brigitta. Eric van Baars hits the right comic notes as Max, as the Captain’s friend.

Capsule judgement: Porthouse’s THE SOUND OF MUSIC is a crowd pleaser that brings out the best of the script through good pacing, fine singing, dancing and line interpretation.