Reviewed by Tony Annicone
Welcome to the Mountains of Austria at Hanover Theatre’s current National Tour of “The Sound Of Music” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. Based on Maria Von Trapp’s autobiography, ”The Story of the Trapp Family Singers”, this musical takes place in Austria in 1938. It tells the story of Maria Rainer, a free-spirited postulant who is hired by Captain Georg Von Trapp to care for his seven children. Although the Captain is engaged to a wealthy socialite, he and Maria eventually fall in love and marry but their happiness is soon shattered when the Nazis annex Austria and they are forced to escape to America. The original show opened on Broadway on November 16, 1959, starred Mary Martin and ran for 1443 performances becoming the second longest running show of the 1950’s. The highly successful movie starring Julie Andrews opened in 1965 and runs yearly on television. The live version of “The Sound Of Music” starring Carrie Underwood ran on NBC on December 5, 2013 enchanting 44 million viewers of modern day audiences once again. Three time Tony Award winning director, Jack O’Brien casts and directs this version excellently, casting fabulous performers and vocalist in all these well known roles. This emotionally charged 57 year old musical once again captures the hearts of every member of the audience, bringing them to laughter and tears in all the right places. It wins this astounding cast a spontaneous standing ovation at the curtain call.
The high production values of this national tour can be seen in the fantastic sets by Douglas Schmidt and the gorgeous multitude of costumes by Jane Greenwood. Jack’s blocking of this huge show is terrific especially the nun’s, children and concert scenes. The most emotionally draining scenes are the emotional goodbye with the Mother Abbess at the end of Act 1 and the final escape of the Von Trapp Family at the end of the show. These scenes leave you with a tear in your eye and a lump in your throat, proving this musical is as poignant now as it was back in 1959. Music director Jay Alger obtains a glorious harmonic balance from the cast and especially in the nun’s four part harmony in Latin as well as in the children’s numbers. He also conducts a splendid sixteen piece orchestra. Danny Mefford’s choreography includes the Rolf and Liesl dance, “Do Re Mi”, “The Lonely Goatherd”, the party dance and “So Long Farewell.” <P>
Leading this huge cast as Maria is gorgeous blonde, Kerstin Anderson. She displays great depth in this role, being spunky and charming and realistic. Kerstin captures the hearts of one and all with her warmth and caring for the children. Kerstin’s marvelous soprano voice soars from the opening “Sound of Music” to “My Favorite Things” with the Mother Abbess, to “Do, Re, Mi” where she teaches the children how to sing and “The Lonely Goatherd” where she comforts them during a thunderstorm. Her two duets with the Captain are “Sound of Music” and “Something Good” which is tenderly rendered when the couple finally admits their love for each other at last. Kerstin breathes new life into this role, making it her own. Her realistic portrayal of Maria is one of the best I’ve seen.
Tall, dark and handsome Ben Davis shines as the debonair Captain with his strong acting prowess and marvelous singing voice. He first appears as a strict martinet, running his household like his battleship by whistling for everyone. His demeanor changes when he realizes that Maria has brought joy back into his and his children’s lives. Ben handles the comic moments with the whistling sounds and some of his funny lines but also displays his tender side during the love song with Maria. Ben also brings tears to your eyes when he sings ”Sound of Music” with his children and especially tugs on your heartstrings when he sing “Edelweiss” at the concert. This song becomes more poignant when you realize that it is the last song Oscar Hammerstein wrote before his death in 1960. Kerstin and Ben have excellent chemistry together. Thank goodness that the original dirge-like love song “An Ordinary Couple” was replaced with the far superior melody from the movie version, “Something Good” in this revival version.
The Mother Abbess is excellently played Melody Betts. She has a fabulous soprano voice which soars off the charts in the emotionally charged “Climb Every Mountain” at the end of both acts. Melody also leads the nuns chorus in “Dixit Dominus”, “Rex Admirabilis” in Act 1 and “Gaudeamus” and “Confitemini” at the wedding. She also does a comic turn with Maria during “My Favorite Things” at the start of the show. Melody commands the stage as this kindly older nun who shows Maria how to pick the true path of her life. The removal of Maria’s veil at the end of Act 1, symbolizes her leaving her old life behind her. Another emotion packed scene is when the Abbess says goodbye to Maria and her family at the end of the show. One of the funniest performers is Merwin Foard as Max Deitweiller. He has many comic and witty one liners, delivering them perfectly. Merwin wins many laughs as he steals many a scene. His counterpart in this show is Elsa who is engaged to the Captain. Teri Hansen, another gorgeous blonde, brings this sophisticated woman to life splendidly. Teri has a strong soprano voice which she displays with Merwin and Ben in my two favorite songs in this show, “How Can Love Survive?” and “No Way to Stop It.” The first describes how rich people overcome all obstacles to in their way to romance and the other advises it is best to compromise when faced with the difficulty of the Germans takeover of Austria which is done tongue in cheek. Her haughty behavior is splendid for this role.
Another highlight of this musical is the seven talented performers who play the children. From the exuberance of “Do, Re, Mi” to the fright of “The Lonely Goatherd” to the harmonic poignancy of “Sound of Music” to the excitement of “So Long, Farewell” and the frightened rendition of the concert numbers, these children not only sing well but run the gamut of emotions all night long with strong line deliveries and fantastic facial expressions. These talented children are Paige Silvester as Liesl, Roy Gantz as Friedrich, who hits a high G in his boy soprano voice in “So Long, Farewell”, Ashley Brooke as the mischievous, Louisa, Austin Levine as Kurt who has a crush on Maria and has great facial expressions and reactions, Iris Davies as Brigitta, who has many lines as the truth teller, delivering them like an old pro, Kyla Carter as Marta and Anika Lore Hatch as Gretl who are as cute as buttons. Paige also sings “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”, does a duet and dance with Austin Colby as Rolf and the reprise with Kerstin who explains “Love isn’t love till you give it away.” Austin who is tall, dark and handsome also has a terrific tenor voice and handles the transition from naive boy to hated Nazi excellently. Later on in the show, Rolf redeems himself by letting the family escape from Herr Zeller and the Nazis. The villain of the show is Herr Zeller played by Robert Mammana. The concert scene is frightening when the Nazi banners drop down from above.The three comic singing nuns who sing four part harmony on “Maria” with the Abbess are beautifully played by Carey Rebecca Brown, Anna Mintzer and Julia Osborne. So for a phenomenal rendition of this classic musical, be sure to catch “The Sound of Music” National tour at the Hanover Theatre. I have many fond memories of this musical, having worked on it three separate times, as Zeller in 1980, as Max in 1986 and directing it in 1994. Run do not walk to the box office, before this sensational musical treat is completely sold out. Tell them Tony sent you.
THE SOUND OF MUSIC ( 28 December to 1 January)
Hanover Theatre, 2 Southbridge Street, Worcester, MA
1(877)571-SHOW or www.thehanovertheatre.org