How do you solve a problem like The Sound of Music? That is, how does a theater company—in this case Asolo Repertory Theatre—breathe fresh life into a musical so familiar to so many, whether through countless community, school and professional productions, or from the classic 1965 movie, viewed in repeat airings on TV over the decades?
Well, director-choreographer Josh Rhodes would probably tell you, by examining the text, songs and lyrics of the Richard Rodgers-Oscar Hammerstein II show (with a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, taking liberal license with historical fact) as if for the first time, eschewing any visions of previous adaptations. Perhaps that did the trick for him and his cast and designers, and it should most likely do the trick for audiences, too.
There is no radical rethinking of this story of the Von Trapp family singers, one-time postulant Fraulein Maria, and the drama of the takeover of Austria by Germany’s Third Reich in the late 1930s. We still have the usual nuns and Nazis, and the children being taught the magic of music by their new governess. But thanks to the talents both on the stage and in back of it, this production manages to rise above expectations.
For starters, Maddie Shea Baldwin makes for an energetic, feisty Maria, timid at first about leaving the convent walls to serve the Von Trapp family and its martinet father Georg (Tally Sessions) but soon willing to stand up to him. Her personality onstage makes her interactions with all those children believable and enjoyable, on the famous “Do-Re-Mi” song that first brings them together and throughout the show. That carries over to the Maria-Georg love story, which can sometimes seem implausible or merely formulaic. The softening of Georg’s hardened exterior, via a few notes of music, may be facile, but in Sessions’ portrayal, it is encouraging to watch the character’s return to life; and after all, the show is all about the power of music.
That said, it’s also refreshing to get away at times from the Von Trapps to their outsider visitors, impresario Max Detweiler (Darren Mathias) and tycoon Elsa Schraeder (Kate Loprest, doing a nice job here). It’s a measure of the old Rodgers-Hammerstein talent that they can switch so smoothly from the country folk yodelings of “The Lonely Goatherd” immediately to the witty sophistication of “How Can Love Survive” with this duo, and then very shortly afterwards to that oft-sung inspirational “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” (powerfully delivered by Liz McCartney as the Mother Abbess).
Along the way, we also see some pleasing work by Sophie Lee Morris and Cole Doman as young would-be lovers Liesl and Rolf; Rhodes’ choreography with bicycle to “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” is enjoyable, as are the pillow-tossing antics on “Goatherd” and the swirling action of “Do-Re-Mi.”
Paul Tate DePoo III’s set design uses the background of stone walls to suggest both the abbey and the Von Trapp home, with painted scenery and lighting conveying the surrounding mountains. And Loren Shaw’s costume designs work well within the parameters of the script while still allowing for some creativity. Music supervisor Sinai Tabak and music director Jordon Cunningham likewise deserve applause for their accomplished interpretations of the score.
The Sound of Music continues through Dec. 28; for tickets call 351-8000 or go to asolorep.org.