The second show in Walnut Street Theatre's 2002-03 Season celebrates the centennial of composer Richard Rodgers with the classic Broadway musical "The Sound of Music". To paraphrase Maury Yeston (composer of "Nine", Titanic", "Phantom" and "Grand Hotel"), "'The Sound of Music'--great songs--great story and little kids being chased by Nazis. What's not to like?"
The musical is based on true events from the book, "The Story of the Trapp Family Singers", by Maria Augusta Trapp, published in 1949. The story starts in pre-war Austria in a convent where Maria, a young novice, is preparing to take her vows. The Mother Abbess, feeling that Maria is not suited for the nunnery, instructs her to go out into the world one last time--and places her in service as a governess to Captain Georg von Trapp, a widower with seven children. Being an Imperial Naval Officer, the Captain runs his household like a ship and in so doing distances his children from him. The children, who are in need of a mother's love and attention, take to Maria at once. She brings the gift of music back into the house by encouraging the children to sing as they once did. The whole household is transformed and the happy Captain plans to marry, Elsa Shraeder, a woman he has been seeing. But Elsa has sympathetic views towards the Nazis who are planning an impending takeover of Austria and the Captain is a staunch nationalist. And though politics prevents their engagement the Captain is not distraught, for he realizes that it is Maria whom he truly loves. The couple marry and upon returning from their honeymoon are faced with the German takeover of their country. The Captain is offered a commission under Hitler and must either accept or flee. The family escapes through the Alps into Switzerland after one of their concerts.
The two leads, Luann Aronson as Maria and James Brennan as the Captain are excellent. Adrienne Young as the eldest daughter Liesl and Bobby Steggert as Rolf, the smitten telegram boy turned Nazi Youth, are charming and refreshingly "read" as their appropriate ages -- teenagers. (All too often these roles are cast as much older.) John-Charles Kelly is appropriately funny as the attitudinizing but likeable dandy, Max Detweiler, a booking agent who is Elsa and the Captain's mutual friend. Though Mary Martello as Elsa has a lovely voice, her interpretation of this role was troublesome to me for she comes off as a cold villainess, instead of a likable, though flawed, character. Ann Arvia on the other hand displays nothing but warmth and sweetness as the Mother Abbess though her voice is not as strong as in previous shows. (Notably as the Countessa in "Phantom") And the fine voices of Sisters Berthe, Margaretta and Sophia should be commended, who as the nuns of the Abbey, sing splendidly in accapella harmony and beautifully in their individual small solos (Sharon Alexander, Joyce A. Presutti, Barbara McCulloh).
The set by John Farrell is colorful and dramatic. An abstract stained glass window suggests at once both the Austrian Alps and the Nonnberg Abbey and a sumptuous bedroom setting displays the wealth of the Trapp Villa. The costumes at best are inconsistent and at worst simply unattractive. Some pieces were obviously pulled from the vaults of the Walnut's Costume Shop while others were created especially for this production (such as the children's and Maria's frocks). Unfortunately, neither the old nor the new work well.
But costumes aside this is a strong production with the most important pieces in place. The music is uplifting, well sung and well accompanied by a 12 piece orchestra under the capable musical direction of Sherman Frank -- who, I might add, has wisely kept the tempos close to their original meters. This is an old fashioned show which builds slowly in the first act, developing character and plot and then landslides to its dramatic conclusion in Act II and director Charles Abbott keeps it moving at a lively and entertaining pace.
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