The Sound of Music – Theatre Review, Arizona Broadway Theatre, Peoria

 

When a film is as hugely popular as 1965’s The Sound of Music and known so thoroughly by its legion of fans, there’s always a snag for new theatrical productions:  Do groups adapt the show from its origins to correspond with what audiences expect from the film or do they keep to the original book with all songs in their original order? 

If there’s one thing we know about Arizona Broadway Theatre is how it continually sticks by its theatrical guns and keeps to the original.  This is something mentioned frequently in this column, but for theatre fans who continually face the challenge of having to sit through interpretations, updates or commercially altered musicals to reflect more closely its big screen counterpart, ABT goes back to the beginning. 

 

Because of its obvious love and dedication to presenting Broadway musicals in its purist form, the theatre may run the occasional risk of upsetting some by not recreating exactly what they think they already know or expect, but here’s the reality; as time passes, if it wasn’t for theatre’s like ABT, fans of live performances would never have a chance to see the real thing anymore, and so it is with the theatre’s new, exciting production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music.  The musical is presented here in all its original 1959 glory, no songs omitted that weren’t in the film and everything sung in the right order and the right setting, and we shouldn’t want it any other way.

A large, painted canvas of Salzburg with the Nonnberg Abbey sitting atop of the hill, overlooking all in the Austrian city adorns the stage.  It’s the first thing you see as you enter the theatre and it nicely creates the tone of the musical’s European setting.  Then the show begins as the pure, unaccompanied voices of the abbey nuns singing Dixit Dominus (Preludium) floats out from the stage and you know from the beginning just by the harmonizing beauty of the sound alone you’re in good hands.

It’s a large cast, supported by outstanding music direction from Mark 4Man, but there are standouts.  Trisha Hart Ditsworth, a recent regular at ABT, continues to broaden her range and charms as Maria, a considerable departure from recent roles where Trisha played the ditzy high-schooler Penny in Hairspray and the clueless teenager Pickles in The Great American Trailer Park Musical.  Sporting a pixie wig and the brightest of smiles, not to mention playing someone closer to her real age, Trisha truly delights as the postulant nun who doesn’t fully realize that the monastic way of life might not be for her.  Trisha sings well, but as a performer, from her energy and that unstoppable ebullient nature she projects from her character, she instills a sense of infectious excitement at the mere idea of singing and making music.  Do-Re-Mi, here sung when Maria first meets the Von Trapp children, is a highlight.  Plus, hearing the song performed live illustrates just how clever the Rodgers and Hammerstein score really is, something that tends to get lost in the film.

Ariana Valdes is a tremendous grounding presence as the Mother Abbess.  She successfully expresses a firm though loving nature to her character, which is exactly what the Mother Abbess requires if we’re to side with her decision when she forces Maria to do something that the postulant obviously doesn’t want to do, plus Ariana’s rendition of Climb Ev’ry Mountain is a genuine crowd pleaser.  It ends the first half of the show with such dramatic and musical power, the kind that delivers goosebumps, that some members of the audience couldn’t help but leap to their feet and cheer in admiration as the curtain fell.

Plus, there’s solid support from Jill Tieskoetter as Frau Schraeder, who in the theatrical production gets a chance to sing; from Sarah Powell who captures the authentic spirit of a sixteen year old in both looks and sound as the oldest daughter, Liesel who needs to hold back on growing up too soon; and from Andy Meyers as Max Detweiler, who, when he appears towards the end of the first half, injects much needed comic energy and humor.  Despite the upbeat nature of the show, The Sound of Music doesn’t possess an overly funny book – it’s essentially a true story and the threat of Nazi control is ever-present, hanging like a dark, threatening cloud over the proceedings – so the audience doesn’t always have a lot to warm to in terms of humor.  When Andy turns up he arrives at just the right moment when the show needs a character like Detweiler the most.

Even though we spy the touches of grey added to his hair, the makeup and coloring can’t disguise the fact that maybe John Dooley is too young as the captain.  For an actor, the part of Captain Von Trapp was always a difficult one – the way the character is written there’s a tendency to appear wooden, an empty cipher portraying a theme rather than a fully fledged character – and John can’t seem to flesh out anything other than a humorless and unrelentingly stern delivery in his dialog, even when the character’s heart later changes and he’s supposed to warm to Maria and his children, but when he sings, that’s another matter.  John’s voice is so powerful and robust filling the auditorium in a way no other male performer in the show can, he’s a pleasure to hear.  You find yourself wishing that not only had writers Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse created a more rounded character for an actor to work with but that Rodgers and Hammerstein had given the captain more songs to sing.

As always, ABT has fun with its menu and drinks to reflect the show you’re about to enjoy.  For drinks there’s The Detweiler, a seasonal eggnog for the holidays, and something extra called The Flibber-ti-jibbet.  No idea what the latter tastes like, but let’s face it, the real fun is just asking the waiter for a glass while attempting to keep a straight face.  It can’t be done.

For more information regarding times, dates and tickets, CLICK HERE for the ABT website.

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