The familiar Rodgers and Hammerstein musical pushes all the right buttons, as it has for millions since it was originally performed in 1959. Children and teens seeing the movie related to the Von Trapp children through pieces like “Do Re Mi” and “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” The music and scenes from the movie must be a part of the psyche of millions of adults today. However, the Musical started on Broadway and ran endlessly in London, where people had been closer to the Nazi invasion (Maslon, 2006). The renewal of this, possibly the greatest musical ever written, certainly awakens a part of us–the grace of the music and scenes embedded like tiny forgotten treasures. Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse brought the idea of telling Maria von Trapp’s story to Rodgers and Hammerstein, and the four collaborated to bring the story to theatre (Maslon, 2006). Now, set to life by completely new performers, the production brings those memories back with a freshness that keeps them alive, even for those who’ve seen the story performed again and again .. and again.
But [l]et’s start at the very beginning, in those hills. There..in those mountains in Austria where the opening scene is set, there’s an air of excitement, and one can actually hear the whir of the wind . . . as in the beginning of the film. The set brings the scene to life and portrays the Nonnberg Abbey beautifully. Maria loved nature and was excited by those mountains and the music she heard coming from the abbey. Apparently more excited by music than religion, Maria (Kristen Andersen) was sent away, and due to her teaching experience at the abbey, she was sent to tutor one of the Von Trapp children (Maslon, 2006). Soon after Maria leaves, seeking freedom, she learns the abbey isn’t the only place with restrictions on singing. As portrayed in the story, Captain Von Trapp’s wife and children were talented musically, and his wife had filled their house with music. After she passed away, the familiar sound of music had saddened Captain Von Trapp (Ben Davis), and the family had stopped singing (Maslon, 2006). The lack of music before Maria arrives only makes each note more joyous as the title song is performed in Scene 8.
In this production, Kirsten Anderson’s portrayal of Maria is perhaps more like the real life heroine than Julie Andrews’ portrayal of her. This Maria strikes me as slightly less scattered, much stronger and possibly more lovable. The film, on the other hand, demonstrates an interesting contrast as Maria exponentially grows stronger when she marries Captain Von Trapp.
In the 1965 film, in the scene where Liesl and Rolfe sing “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” there was something unforgettable about the light as it hit the trees and Liesl’s flowing dress and the glistening rain on the windows of the gazebo. Sadly, in this production of the musical, a one dimensional gazebo leaves the scene feeling somewhat flat. However, the music is well done, and Rolfe holds a certain masculine yet gentle charm. Still, the set lacks that something, and the dance scene couldn’t possibly be as dynamic without the benches on which they had danced in the film. Granted, there can be limitations involved in a live production, but this scene suffers a loss.
There are changes in dialogue and other changes to update the production, and though altering such an important work may seem slightly unorthodox to some, the writers did so with taste and sensitivity. And like the original Broadway version, “My Favorite Things” is performed in the early scenes before Maria leaves the abbey, (Maslon, 2006), whereas in the movie, the number only appeared after she joined the Von Trapp Family. Going back to the original arrangement lends a richer understanding of her sadness upon leaving the Abbey and foreshadows future events, adding to the richness of the story.
The most memorable performances perhaps are from Merwin Foard, who plays Max Detweiler, and Ashley Brown, who sings beautifully in her portrayal of the Reverend Mother Abbess. Though some of the acting seems somewhat one dimensional, Brigitta’s (Svea Johnson) adorable explanation of how Maria and the Captain fall in love compensates for the lack of emotion in love scenes between Maria and a somewhat cold Captain Von Trapp. This may be closer to reality, according to some literature, which suggests Maria originally married Von Trapp more because of her love for the children than for him (Maslon, 2006). His strong devotion to Austria and opposition to the Third Reich comes across well and is particularly effective with the backdrop of Nazi flags as he sings “Edelweiss” just before their escape. This was an emotional scene, which brings on a unique sense of triumph about their upcoming escape and conclusion to the story.
Andrew Lloyd Weber’s dream to produce a revival of this legendary musical is now reality. Thanks to him and to all those who worked on the production, it can now touch a new generation as it touched many as children. As adults, it’s met with bittersweet joy for the Von Trapps and all those families that were able to escape the Nazi invasion.
Source: Maslon, L., 2006. The Sound of Music Companion, New York: Simon & Schuster.
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