Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, May, 2002
Nuns wearing wimples
And captains with whistles
Brave young Maria
And Nazis who bristle
And children who sing
These are a few of my favorite things
-- with apologies to Oscar Hammerstein II
Although I entered the Mac-Haydn the other night with my curmudgeonly “I Hate Rodgers & Hammerstein” face on, it wasn’t ten minutes in to The Sound of Music that I surrendered completely. Yes, the show saccharine and over simplified, but it is so well crafted and by such masters that you just have to like it.
And then there is all that great music. I still don’t believe that anyone actually wrote Do-Re-Mi or Edelweiss. Surely those songs just were from the beginning of time? It is impossible for me to believe that I was born into a world that didn’t sing them, and yet I was. I must bow to the genius of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. The Sound of Music was their final collaboration, (Hammerstein died before the show had finished its first year on Broadway), and you can just feel that it is the work of two mature artists who knew and respected each other thoroughly.
As I am sure you already know, The Sound of Music is based on the true story of the von Trapp family of Salzburg, Austria, and it is a good thing too because if someone made this tale up, no one would believe it! While Rodgers and Hammerstein and their librettists Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse took huge liberties with the time-table of the actual events (Captain von Trapp and Maria had been married for nearly a decade at the time of the Nazi invasion of Austria, and during that time had had three additional children), the basics are true. Maria was a novice at Nonnberg Abbey when she was sent to be governess to one of the Captain’s children. They were married and the family formed a successful singing group. The Nazis did want Captain von Trapp to join their Navy, he refused, and the family fled Austria. They ended up settling in Stowe, Vermont, and if you have never visited the breathtakingly beautiful Trapp Family Lodge there, I would encourage you to do so, and soon. The gardens are spectacular this time of year.
The Mac-Haydn has mounted a spirited production of this grand story of the powers of love, faith, and music to move mountains. Megan Midkiff is all sparkle as the endlessly plucky Maria. Unlike the middle-aged ladies we are generally asked to accept in this role (Mary Martin was nearly 50 when she originated the role on Broadway), Midkiff is probably about the same age as the real Maria was when she married and she brings the energy and conviction of youth to the part.
The role of Captain von Trapp is, alas, a fairly thankless one. Maria von Trapp herself complained about the way her husband was portrayed in the script. Adam Baritot is handsome enough and sings nicely, but he, like all the other Captains before him, seemed wooden and unsympathetic.
Robin Campbell does nicely with the equally difficult role of Liesl. This chick is 16 (going on 17) and she does NOT need a governess and yet she spends most of the show skipping around in mary-janes and appearing to have as much fun singing Do-Re-Mi in a dress made out of old curtains as her six younger siblings. Yeah, right. But implausibility aside, Campbell does her bit with grace and is lovely to look at and listen to.
As Liesl’s Nazi beau, Rolf, Brian Laycock brings the real world sharply into focus. On the narrow 17 (going on 18) year old shoulders of this character rests the heavy burden of representing all that is Evil In The World – sex, death, power, prejudice. Director David Leidholdt wisely prolongs that horrible moment at the very end when the family is hiding in the Abbey gardens during their escape and Rolf’s flashlight catches Liesl’s face as he and the other Storm Troopers search for the family. Her father grabs her, holds her, but he cannot save her. The fate of the entire family is in Rolf’s hands and, from what we have seen so far of this young, impulsive, and easily led young man, they are goners. Even after we hear Rolf call out “There’s no one out here” and realize that he has miraculously done the right thing, the moment of terror continues, no one moves for one those endlessly long seconds that occur when the world is changing rapidly.
I really should not comment on the actors who portrayed the six younger von Trapp children as the roles are double cast, but I cannot resist. The six I saw – Casson Rugen (Friedrich), Erin Graham (Louisa), Zachary Fenoff (Kurt), Sharon Rose Alison (Birgitta), Katie Leinung (Marta), and Cydney Rippel (Gretl) – were adorable and perfect and I cannot imagine that the other cast could possibly be any better. But I bet they are. Write and let me know, will you?
But the best thing in the show is Loretta Merlo as the Mother Abbess. This woman can SING!! A few verses into the Prelude (aka How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria) I saw people diving into their programs to discover A) who was this woman, and B) how long were we going to have to wait until she would sing Climb Every Mountain? Thankfully lots of other good stuff happened in between, but Merlo ended Acts I and II with rousing renditions of this monumental song that had me sobbing unabashedly. Yes, I generally lean more towards the witty lyrics of Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, and Stephen Sondheim, but when Hammerstein gets cranked up there is no topping him.
Jimm Halliday has provided a boatload of handsome costumes, including, yes, girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes. The set, such as it can be at the Mac-Haydn, is intricately designed by LiMing Tang. I liked the stained glass edelweiss effect on the stage floor, but the murals just didn’t say Austria to me.
The Sound of Music runs through June 2nd at the Mac-Haydn Theatre on Rt. 203 in Chatham, NY. The show runs two and a half hours with one intermission and is suitable for the whole family. Call the box office at 518-392-9292 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2002