The hills of Thousand Oaks are alive with _____.

If anyone reading this is incapable of filling in the blank, this reviewer can only wonder where you’ve been during the half century since The Sound Of Music made its Broadway debut. Is there anyone in America who hasn’t seen either the 1964 movie adaptation—the third biggest moneymaker in film history when adjusted for inflation—or any one of a gazillion regional, community, or school productions of the Rodgers And Hammerstein classic?

It’s no wonder then that the Fred Kavli Theatre for the Performing Arts was jam packed for last night’s gala opening of the gazillion-and-oneth revival of the Tony-winning smash—one so impeccably staged and performed that it might even sway those who’ve suffered through a mediocre amateur production or two and vowed never to see another.

Yes, there are still moments in The Sound Of Music that will prove too sugary for theater sophisticates. Yes, a stageful of singing nuns can still at times be about a dozen too many. And yes, historical purists still have every right to carp about the show’s factual inaccuracies. (How’s this for fudging with geography? An escape over Maria’s beloved mountains would have taken her and the von Trapp Family Singers smack dab into Nazi Germany and not into Switzerland, 200 miles away.)

Still, with performances as rich and layered as those of Shannon Warne and Tom Schmid (who also happen to have some of the Broadway-readiest pipes around), direction as spot-on as Lewis Wilkenfeld’s, a terrific supporting cast of theater pros and relative newbies, and a Broadway caliber orchestra under the impeccable direction of Darryl Archibald, even the grumpiest theatergoer may fall under this Sound Of Music’s spell.

I’ll forgo the usual synopsizing (for obvious reasons) and simply list the five best reasons not to miss Cabrillo Music Theatre’s smashing Sound Of Music revival.

Reason #1: Warne, whose starring roles over the past five years or so have taken her to the top echelon of L.A.-based musical theater stars. Few can match Warne’s blend of captivating stage presence, bona fide acting chops, and an instantly recognizable voice that can slide imperceptibly from pop to legit and back again. Needless to say, Warne makes the future Baroness von Trapp so feisty, fun, and fantastically her own that you’ll likely forget any previous Marias—at least for the duration of the show.

Reason #2: Schmid, whose performance captures all of the Captain’s complex mixture of coldness, repressed pain, military bearing, and fatherly adoration, and whose golden pipes make his Captain von Trapp one of the best sung ever.

Reason #3: The von Trapp children (Alison Woods, Michael Kennedy, Lyrissa Leininger, Mason Purece, Audrey Miller, Natalie Esposito, and Kristina Van Horst), who perform with professionalism, harmonize to perfection, and for the most part avoid child actor precocity. Woods makes for an absolutely enchanting Leisl, and Tyler Matthew Burk (Rolf) displays triple-threat talents to match his song-and-dance partner’s.

Reason #4: The nuns, whose exquisite harmonies are the closest thing to heavenly Cabrillo audiences have likely heard since the CLO’s 2001 revival, with Mother Abbess Marilyn Anderson’s “Climb Every Mountain” every bit the inspirational showstopper it’s supposed to be. Along with Anderson, the delightful trio of Farley Cadena (Sister Margaretta), Becca Cornelius (Sister Sophia), and Karen Sonnenschein (Sister Berthe) join voices (and opposing viewpoints) in a futile but very funny attempt to “solve a problem like Maria” in song.

Reason #5: The musical numbers, including the now standard “The Sound of Music”, “Edelweiss”, “My Favorite Things”, and “Do-Re-Mi,” backed by Cabrillo’s Broadway-caliber Music Theatre Orchestra and vocalized to perfection by a cast of thirty-nine. Add to that “Sixteen Going On Seventeen,” a charming showcase for Woods and Burk—and for choreographer Heather Castillo, whose Agnes de Mille-inspired dance moves give the iconic puppy-love duet added beauty and depth. “I Have Confidence” and “Something Good,” written for the movie adaptation, have shrewdly been inserted into the Cabrillo revival. “How Can Love Survive” and “No Way To Stop It,” sung by von Trapp family friends Max and Elsa, were cut from the movie but not in Cabrillo’s staging, providing here a needed dose of tartness amidst the sweetness around them.

Michael G. Hawkins and Laura Cable furnish dandy support as the acerbic duo, though why Cable should be the only major player with vaguely foreign diction is anyone’s guess. Gloria Bennett, John McCool Bowers, David Gilchrist, Patrick J. Saxon, and Robert Weibezahl do first-rate work in smaller roles.

Ronni Coleen Ashley, Carol-Lynn Cambell, Carolyn Freeman Champ, Judi Domroy, Lori Merkle Ford, Heidi Goodspeed, Stephanie Hayslip, Julie Jones, Laura Leininger, Maegan Mandarino, Jacqueline Elyse Rosenthal, Christanna Rowader, Catherine Wallet, and Emily Works are marvelous as singing nuns and other assorted female characters. The male contingent is brought up by David Kennedy, Mark David Lackey, Bart Leninger, and Jesse Test.

The production looks great, with sets originally created in the early 1970s for the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera and provided by Musical Theatre West, and costumes provided by FCLO Music Theatre and supervised by Christine Gibson, all of the above lit to perfection by Rand Ryan. Jonathan Burke’s sound design is one of his best, filling the Kavli with as celestial a blend of voices as might be heard in a Salzburg cathedral. Thumbs up too to hair and makeup designer Mark Travis Hoyer, production stage manager Allie Roy, assistant stage managers Taylor Ruge and Jessie Standifer, technical director Tim Schoepfer, and crew captain Char Brister.

The Sound Of Music may never end up on every Rodgers And Hammerstein fan’s list of their “Favorite Things.” Still, even those who prefer Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, or The King And I will likely concur that you’d be hard-pressed to find a better TSOM than the one currently on stage in Thousand Oaks. I defy any heart not to melt when the Captain’s own is thawed by his children’s voices raised in song, or any theatergoer not to be moved as the von Trapps begin to ascend that mountain towards whatever destiny awaits them on the other side.

Cabrillo Music Theatre, Kavli Theatre, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Boulevard, Thousand Oaks.

–Steven Stanley
July 22, 2011
Photos: Ed Krieger

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