‘Sound of Music’ plays sweetly at Northern Stage

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/5/2019 3:15:07 PM
Modified: 12/5/2019 3:14:56 PM

Staging a show that audiences know and treasure is a little like attempting to duplicate Mom’s most beloved meal for the family.

The Sound of Music, in that case, may be the Thanksgiving dinner of the theater.

Not only is the 1965 movie a family tradition for many, shared with children and grandchildren, its songs lodging deeply in the portion of the brain that stores all things warm and fuzzy (bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, for example), it’s also a show that soars or flops by virtue of its star the way the Thanksgiving meal revolves around the turkey. (Apologies to the incomparable Julie Andrews for the analogy.) And then there’s the matter of cramming all the things guests anticipate onto one stage, much like a host or hostess setting the Thanksgiving table.

Audiences who attend the Northern Stage production of The Sound of Music knowing every word of the musical numbers, right down to the cough in The Lonely Goatherd marionette show, and expecting a faithful rendition will, for the most part, come away satisfied. But it’s those who are willing to brook a few twists on tradition who will enjoy the show the most.

In production through Jan. 5, The Sound of Music stars Kerstin Anderson as Maria Rainer, the young postulant conscripted into service as a nanny for an austere widower with seven children, on the eve of the Anschluss in 1938 Austria. Anderson, a Vermont native who bears a certain resemblance to Elisabeth Moss of The Handmaid’s Tale fame, presents a Maria of her own making, neither straining to mimic Andrews nor overcorrecting and offering a character at odds with the spirit of the show. Her singing voice is clean and bright, and she excels at fielding the other characters’ lines and expressions, creating believable connections in a way some of the other actors do not.

Anderson sets a joyous mood for the show in her opening number, set in the mountains of Salzburg, Austria, outside the abbey where she’s trying — rather unsuccessfully — to fit in with a solemn community of nuns. From there, the story unfolds much like the tale audiences know from the movie, with a few departures and omissions. That’s because the original 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical was altered when it was made into the box office phenomenon most people are more familiar with. There is, alas, no I Have Confidence in the Broadway version, The Lonely Goatherd takes place in Maria’s bedroom during the thunderstorm rather than in a theater with marionettes and My Favorite Things is also displaced. A few minor plot points are different as well.

For those who cherish the movie version of The Sound of Music, the limitations of the stage can be felt at times as well. The panoramic grandeur of the Austrian mountains and the iconic image of Maria exulting in it simply can’t be duplicated. Ditto for her rambles along the streets and countryside with her guitar and gaggle of children — although the costume crew, led by Hunter Kaczorowski, does come through with a delightful wardrobe of repurposed curtains.

The stage version of the production — or at least this version of it — also condenses the love story between Captain Georg von Trapp and Maria to the point that it loses some of its fizz. Although a conversation between Maria and Brigitta von Trapp help to catch us up somewhat, it feels as though the love affair springs out of nowhere one night rather than bubbling up from little encounters beginning the day Maria arrives.

But director Maggie Burrows, the cast and the crew succeed in serving an authentic version of the tale. The scenes, although tightly packed, flow efficiently, thanks to seamless set changes orchestrated by set designer Carolyn Mraz and production stage manager Brian Sekinger.

Matt Faucher, a New York-based actor who recently appeared on Broadway in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, satisfies as Captain von Trapp, stony and aloof until Maria unleashes his rich bass singing voice, and with it, his capacity for love. The young actors who alternate in the roles of the von Trapp children charm to varying degrees (Rei Huston, who played Gretl in Tuesday night’s sold-out show was especially winsome). And the nuns, with their operatic harmonies and philosophical musings, provide a rich backdrop that in many ways compensates for the absent Alps.

Of course, it is unfair to view the show solely in the shadow of its cinematic forebear, however tempting that may be. In fact, some of the places where it parts ways with the Hollywood version are arguably its strongest.

No Way to Stop It, a duet performed by L.A.-based actor James Beaman, who plays the lovable-but-spineless Max Detweiler, and Broadway fixture Gina Lamparella, who sizzles as Elsa Schraeder, the character everyone loves to hate, feels as though it were written for the Trump era. It also sheds additional light on the captain’s split from the baroness.

Kelsey Anne Brown, a Florida native and recent graduate of Baldwin Wallace University in Ohio, brings a delicious irony to the part of Liesl von Trapp, particularly in her rendition of Sixteen Going on Seventeen, a piece that otherwise might induce nausea.

And classical vocalist Alyson Cambridge, who recently made her Broadway debut in Rocktopia, is nothing short of glorious as Mother Abbess. Early in the show she unleashes an astonishing voice and playful demeanor that make the scenes with the nuns — dare I say — better than the movie version.

The audience at Tuesday’s show seemed to agree. At curtain call, the Mother Abbess received rousing applause and cheers.

Northern Stage’s production of The Sound of Music plays through Jan. 5 at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction. Tickets range from $17.75 to $67.75. Visit northernstage.org or call 802-296-7000.

Sarah Earle can be reached at searle@vnews.com or 603-727-3268.




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