If you’re one of the gazillion who’ve watched Julie Andrews declare the Austrian hills “alive with the sound of” you know what, or seen any of the gazillion community, school, or regional stagings of a certain Rodgers & Hammerstein Tony Award winner, you may be asking yourself, “Do I really want to see The Sound Of Music again?” If this is the case, here are ten reasons not to miss the one-in-a-gazillion touring production now captivating audiences at the Segerstrom Center For The Arts.
1) This 2015-16 North American tour may not be the offshoot of a Broadway production like just about everything else in this year’s SCFTA Broadway season, but it’s Broadway-caliber all the way: an Equity cast, a director with about three-dozen Broadway credits (and three Tonys) to his name, and a design team with bios a mile long.
2) Leading lady Kerstin Anderson, barely three years out of high school, is everything you want a Maria to be, a complex bundle of charm, feistiness and warmth, a glorious singer, and (at nearly the height of Ben Davis, her dynamic, sexy, gorgeously-voiced Captain) a Maria more than capable of going eye-to-eye for herself, for her charges, and for her man.
3) Director Jack O’Brien has cast a septet of talented Von Trapp children (Paige Sylvester, Jeremy Michael Lanuti, Ashley Brooke, Austin Levine, Iris Davies, Kyla Carter, and Audrey Bennett as Liesl, Friedrich, Louisa, Kurt, Brigitta, Marta, and Gretl) without a trace of child actor “cuteness.”
4) From leading players to featured roles to the smallest cameo, performers have been picked as much for their acting chops as for their vocal chords, something that proves particularly true in Anderson’s and Davis’s slow-building, high-chemistry onstage romance.
5) This is one Sound Of Music that’s not afraid to let its second act go dark, as warm Austrian “Wie geht’s?” and hugs find themselves replaced by sky-high arm salutes and cries of “Heil!”, the year being 1938, only months after Hitler had annexed Austria for his Third Reich. O’Brien gives the musical’s last half-hour so much edge-of-your-seat suspense that when Davis’ Georg hesitates before singing “Bless our homeland forever” in the eleventh-hour “Edelweiss,” the danger posed by his choice of songs is palpable.
6) Choreographer Danny Befford’s “Sixteen Going On Seventeen” has an Agnes de Mille quality reminiscent of her Oklahoma! and Carousel dream ballets, gracefully performed by Dan Tracy’s handsome, charming Rolf and Silvester’s lovely Liesl.
8) Delicious supporting performances are delivered by Merwin Foard (Max) and Teri Hansen (Elsa), neither of whose spicy duets get cut in this time round as they were in the movie, with Carey Rebecca Brown, Elisabeth Evans, and Julia Osborne earning deserved chuckles for their Sisters Berthe, Margaretta, and Sophia.
9) A veritable who’s-who of Broadway greats—Douglas W. Schmidt (scenic design), Jane Greenwood (costumes), Natasha Katz (lighting), Tom Watson (hair), and Ken Travis (sound)—give this Sound Of Music an absolutely stunning production design, from Schmidt’s Technicolor Alps* and his gasp-inducing backdrop for the Kaltzberg Concert Hall Stage to Greenwood’s delightful curtains-turned-playwear to Katz’s romance/drama-enhancing lighting to Watson’s just-right 1930s dos to Travis’s crystal-clear mix of amped vocals and live instrumentals.
10) A breathtakingly beautiful orchestral backdrop is provided by musical director/conductor Jay Alger and at least sixteen pit musicians (and the nun harmonies are every bit as celestial).
Completing the production’s Grade-A ensemble are Ronald L. Brown (Baron Elberfeld), Cáitlín Burke, Christopher Carl (Admiral von Schreiber), Patton Chandler, Donna Garner (Frau Schmidt), swing Meghan Hales, Darren Matthias (Franz), Julia Osborne, Rebecca Pitcher (Baroness Elberfeld), Andrea Ross (Ursula, A New Postulant), Brent Schindele (Herr Zeller), and Jim Schubin, with swings Austin Colby, Daniella Dalli, and Adam Hill standing by to go on as Hales did for Rosalie Graziano at the performance reviewed. Ben Krieger and Alexa Lasanta cover between them four of the smaller Trapp children.
In fact, my only quibble with this quite marvelous production is a curious decision to have some characters speak with a vaguely “European” accent and others in Standard American English.
Jack McLeod is production stage manager and Erik Birkeland is company manager. Matt Lenz is associate director and Jonathan Warren is associate choreographer. Andy Einhorn is music supervisor.
I’ve now seen at least half a dozen productions of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The Sound Of Music and none of them has gotten everything quite as right as the Broadway-quality National Tour now playing at the Segerstom. It sets the bar high indeed for any Sound Of Musics yet to come.
*Fun fact: 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.)
Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
July 20, 2016
Photos: Matthew Murphy