Music takes center stage in Musical Theatre West’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music,” continuing through Nov. 5. With a vivacious orchestra (conducted by Dennis Castellano) and a stellar cast of amazing singers—including the seven “von Trapp” children—this production rings loud and true, just as you’d wish for the iconic musical.
If you’re familiar with the 1965 film starring Julie Andrews as Maria, the would-be-nun turned governess, then this story will have few surprises. However, the nuns here play a larger singing role, and boy can they belt it. Members the Long Beach Choral & Chamber Orchestra, “The Nuns of Nonnberg Abbey” offer a conversion experience every time they raise their collective voices in song.
The nuns’ main “problem” to solve is postulant Maria (Juliana Sloan), who can’t stop singing and is often late coming back from her mountain picnics where the Austrian “hills are alive with the sound of music.” Sloan makes a marvelous Maria, capturing her youthful enthusiasm, especially in song, infusing every note with vibrancy.
The Mother Abbess (Sarah Wolter) is kind and nurturing toward Maria, even writing down the words to “My Favorite Things” (“raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens”) from Maria to sing with her. Wolter’s own vocal range is astonishing, especially evident in “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” encouraging Maria to follow her dreams.
As Captain Georg von Trapp, father to the seven children with latent singing ability, Jonathan von Mering is reminiscent of Christopher Plummer in the film—reticent and brooding but warm and vulnerable underneath, qualities audible in von Mering’s rich baritone. The romantic chemistry that brews between the Captain and Maria is not only believable but palpable, especially in their “The Laendler” dance duet and subsequent “Something Good.”
Meghan Andrews embodies the worldly and elegant Elsa Schraeder, who has designs of her own on the Captain, assisted by the lovably conniving Max Detweiler (an animated Brian Kim McCormick), who realizes he can profit by casting the whole von Trapp family in a national festival.
As you may know from the film, that festival plays a pivotal part later as the German Third Reich creeps into Austria, demanding that all homes fly the Nazi flag and seeking to conscript the reluctant Captain into its naval service.
Seeing those giant red flags with their Nazi symbols unfurled on stage—the sets otherwise rotating among the spacious von Trapp estate, the nuns’ hallowed abbey and garden, and colorful snowcapped mountains (scenic design by Adam Koch)—creates an ominous and threatening mood.
Rolf the telegraph boy (a well-cast Brandon Keith Rogers), who soon sports a Nazi armband and in whose unlikely hands the fate of the von Trapps falls, may surprise you here if you are familiar with his role in the film.
But Rolf’s clandestine relationship with eldest von Trapp daughter Liesl (a poised Erin Dubreuil) is cutely done, the pair charming in “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” (choreography by Christine Negherbon).
In fact, all the young actors playing the von Trapp children charm not just with cuteness but ability. Because of their ages, two teams of child actors alternate performing dates. The “Edelweiss Cast” of performers on opening night were uniformly confident and professional given their ages, with excellent singing voices.
Other supporting cast are similarly strong—including the Captain’s two stalwart household staff members (played by Kevin Symons and Cathy Newman) and the lovely and lively Sisters of the abbey (played by Newman, Jacqueline Dennis and Holly Santiago)—adding to the panoply of talent converging in this production.
Costuming (by Deborah Roberts), too, adds visual pleasure to the performance, from the Captain’s fitting suits to Elsa’s elegant dresses to the children’s multiple matching outfits (yes, one made of curtains), and even Maria’s “ugly” travel clothes.
Though necessarily episodic, the musical moves along crisply as directed by Wayne Bryan, with orchestral interludes between scenes. Some scenes are more emotively energetic than others, not because of the performers but just because there are a lot of scenes.
And some of them stand out strongly, such as the glorious “Processional” wedding with multicolored stained glass as a backdrop. The final scene is also beautifully rendered and emotionally charged, the cast singing “Finale Ultimo” with powerful resonance.
Above all, it’s the cast’s astounding voices that will transport you to the hills of Austria and the enchanting world of the nuns, Maria, the Captain and his precocious children. Don’t miss this chance!
Musical Theatre West’s “The Sound of Music” continues through Nov. 5 at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center at Cal State Long Beach, 6200 E. Atherton St., Long Beach, with shows Thursday, Oct. 26, at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 1:00 p.m. (and 6:00 p.m. on Oct. 29). Ticket prices start at $20 and can be purchased by calling the MTW box office at (562) 856-1999 or visiting Musical.org. Run time is 2 hours and 20 minutes, including intermission.