The Sound of Music

The Little Theater on the Square

The hills are alive, with the sound of cynical comments from yours truly. OK, so it doesn't have the sweet ring to it that the actual lyric has, but at least it's truthful. I've always enjoyed the Sound of Music, though my first real memory of the production isn't the film (which I'm sure I had seen before then) but the performance for the jr. high school that preceded the real thing each year for the High Schoolers. I was in 7th grade, and one of my class mates was in the production (the music and drama teachers hoping a 7th grader would be close enough to a 5 year old to pass for a school production), the girl next door was Mother Superior, and they had built a fake mountain complete with stairs so the cast could "Climb every mountain, ford every stream...... etc.". Apart from that, the memory is a bit dim. The film is most memorable of course, because we've seen it so many times (or at least tried not to see it so many times). Alas, the stage is not the screen, and so it goes here.....

Starting with -- an opening number from the nuns, who march down the 2 aisles of the Little Theater, singing something acapella and vaguely catholic; and also having a hard time keeping in sync with each other. It was a bit like an echo chamber that kept changing repeat times -- and something they hopefully improved on as the production completed it's run. They leave, the curtain rises, and in a rather versatile use of the small stage, we see Fraulien Maria singing about musical hills. After years of lithe, blonde, Aryan stereotypes playing Maria, the borderline frumpy brunette was a bit odd, although probably closer to the truth. She sings competently enough, but has just enough Fran Drescher hiding in the background to make her speaking voice as odd as her appearance. She finishes the scene, the lights dim down, the large green cloth covering the stage is drawn back, and the set become a garden at the abbey where Mother Superior and the others try "To solve a problem like Maria....", before she comes in and sings with the Mother Superior about her "Favorite Things, and then I won't feel so bad" about be assigned to be governess to the Children Von Trapp. The Captain, who has become increasingly distant from his children following the death of their mother, has gone through a series of governesses, all because the children want a parent, not a nursemaid. This captain also seems to suffer from a throat condition that made it very hard for anyone beyond the 6th row to hear him clearly when he sang (we were in the 7th row, and it was hard to make him out). The kids (far more accurately aged than the old Mt. Zion production) are very good at their parts -- down to the littlest 5-year-old (who nailed her parts better than some of the adults did). Maria uses the wrong kind of guitar (I don't think a late 30's early 40's vintage acolyte would be playing a modern steel string guitar) to teach the kids to sing and understand the Kodaly hand signals (watch Close Encounters of the 3rd kind for a more detailed explanation). She then sings to them of goatherds, and sewing play clothes out of curtains (OK, she didn't sing about the clothes, though she did sing about "A needle pulling thread"). The colorful clothes cause great amusement for the captain's lady, Frau Schrader (and boy oh boy, was she ever a frau!!), and his showbiz pal Max (the only part, other than the kids, that was perfectly cast). The captain proposes to Frau Scrader, only to discover love for Maria, who runs back to the abbey in fear of it. Mother S. gives words of wisdom and sends her back, where she eventually marries into the Von Trapp clan -- just as the specter of the swastika begins to loom large. Needless to say, the local Nazi official (played by the Little Theater's artistic director-- can you say typecasting?) starts demanding the captain join the German Navy, but he and the kids escape to Switzerland after appearing at Max's big music revue. And they all live happily ever after, until the play finishes it's run.

I know I may have seemed overly critical, but bear in mind -- I prefer live theater to most movies anytime, and this was still more interesting than watching the film again. Still, when compared to other productions (namely last season's Brigadoon) it pales a bit. The sets were brilliantly ingenious -- using one main set to be all the scenes in the musical, simply by changing lighting and a few small pieces was very good -- and as I said before, the children were excellent. Max was hilarious, and Frau Schrader played her part appropriately aristocratically. The big problems -- The Captain and Maria. Maria was more 'Jewish American Princess' than 'Aryan Beauty' which is only a big deal because the musical deals with the growing Nazi movement at the time. The Captain held no authority whatsoever. You couldn't hear him half the time when he was singing, a fatal mistake in a live theater production. It was OK when Christopher Plummer sang "Edelweiss" in a soft gentle voice -- he had a number of microphones pointed at him, and the options of redubbing any problems. Live theater has no such options -- hire someone we can all hear next time.