Friday, November 18, 2016

Another look at “Sound of Music” now playing at Civic Theatre

‘In 1938 The von Trapp’s, arrived in New York under a six month visitors’ visa and began a concert tour in Pennsylvania. In 1944, several of the von Trapp’s applied for US citizenship at the U.S. District Court in Burlington, Vermont.’ They were fleeing Hitler’s takeover of their beloved Vienna and were lucky enough to have escaped when they did.

You remember the von Trapp’s, of course?  They were the famous ‘singing family von Trapp who lived out their years in Vermont with income from their Family Lodge/farm that served visitors in the small town of Stowe.

Based loosely on the memoir of Maria von Trapp, “The Story of the Trapp Family Singers”, the book for the show “The Sound of Music” is credited to Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Together with Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II, the original Broadway 1959 production left an indelible mark for musical theatre standards to live up to this day. 

For this Broadway revival, former Old Globe artistic director Jack O’Brien is at the helm. Theatregoers, old and new alike can have another look at a favorite, seen now perhaps through a different lens or for the first time with new eyes. Either way, the underscore of the real story paints scenarios one might never have been imagined in days past.

Set against the rolling hills of the Austrian landscape, (Douglas W. Schmidt) 1938 Austria is in the middle of the Anschlus.The German regime is demanding a straightforward Heil! when one with the Nazi armband enters. Captain von Trapp (Ben Davis) refuses change his political loyalties or even acknowledge their demands even though he is encouraged to join forces as an appeasement by his new love interest Elsa Schraeder (Teri Hansen) and long time friend Max Detweiler (Merwin Foard) both of who are leading advocates for the Nazi’s.

Ben Davis as Captain von Trapp

In the middle of all this political unrest, the sheltered and innocent novitiate Maria (Anna Mintzer) is sent to be governess to the ‘unruly” von Trapp seven. Captain von Trapp, decorated WW I Captain, and widower still thinks he’s in command of his ship and uses his boatswain’s whistle to call his domestic help as well as his own children to line up before him to get their daily marching orders. Each has his or her own set of tweets.

Maria will have nothing of this and begins transforming the very disciplined household into a fun loving musical family. Things get a little dicey for Maria when she finds herself falling in love with the older and ‘spoken for’ widower.   You remember the rest, I’m sure.

With etched in your memory tunes, the likes of “My Favorite Things”, “Climb Eve’ry Mountain” (more on that one later) “Do-Re-Me”, “Edelweiss”, “Sixteen Going On Seventeen” of course “The Sound of Music” (and I could go on) how can one not file this one away as one of our favorite musicals from the Golden Age of the Broadway Musical? 

The evenings’ topper has to be Melody Betts Mother Abbess guiding Maria through her difficult times but more importantly when she uses the full power of her operatic instrument in “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” where she reaches and holds that very last high ‘G’ causing a collective breath to be heard throughout the theatre.

Maria and the children
Add the seven von Trapp children, Liesl (Paige Silvester), the eldest and her short-lived love interest Rolf Gruber (Austin Colby), (“Sixteen Going on Seventeen”) and the entire von Trapp gaggle (“The Lonely Goatherd”) along with Max (“No Way to Stop It”) the musical hums along at a fast clip.

Leaving in its wake, however, there is little tension of what’s to come and even less emotional pull unless you count the final scene when Maria has to finally part company with the Mother Abbess and the Nonnberg Abby.  And when it does come, it’s too little too late. Unfortunately this is one large component O’Brien and his cast fails to give us.

One would love to compliment the actors at this point but for yours truly, the lead role of Maria was simply not a deal maker. Neither voice nor acting convinced. Ben Davis, on the other hand gives a more mature rendering of the stiff necked father/Captain willing to soften his position when push came to shove. The Captain finally regarded the well being of his children above the military discipline including  a convenient marriage, had his plans gone forward. Unfortunately the Baroness Elsa Schraeder couldn’t comprehend.

Austin Colby with Paige Silvester
Austin Colby, the boyfriend turned Nazi was in fine voice and rather eerily convincing as his affections toward Liesl turned from playful puppy-love to icy cold when her father refused the Heil back at him after he delivered a letter to their home. Merwin Foard’s Max was somewhat persuasive as the go between the Nazi regime and his trying to convince the Captain to switch sides ‘until this thing blew over’. Ms. Hansen’s Elsa Schraeder’s, who had her eye on the Captain, exited without much fanfare. (“How Can Love Survive?”) Paige Silvester’s Liesl did win me over as the eldest and in charge of the young'uns as the woman/child with a broken heart.

Director/conductor Jay Alger’s 16-piece orchestra is in full command oft times too loud but then again, the sound at the Civic gives us deafeningly loud music the spoken word is barely audible.  In short, the sound system is in dire need of fixin’.   

While sitting through this particular production and reflecting on the times then and now and the racial climate we are in and will be facing for some time to come, I am in awe that in 2016 minorities are once again the subject/object of hate crimes. Maria et al. were lucky to have found a safe haven in this country in 1948. Others were not so fortunate. Others might not be as fortunate now. Discuss.

That said, “The Sound of Music” is still a favorite. ‘Solving problems like Maria’ should be the least of our worries.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Nov. 20th
Organization: Broadway San Diego
Phone: 888-937-8995
Production Type: Musical
Where: 3rd and B Street, Downtown, San Diego
Ticket Prices: Start at $22.50
Venue: San Diego Civic Theatre

Photo: Matthew Murphy

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