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Wednesday, December 09, 2015

'The Sound of Music' Visits the Hippodrome at the Right Time

For decades The Sound of Music has enthralled audiences worldwide with its superb score and its uplifting message that the power of love can prevail against all odds during a dangerous period in our history.  It is fitting that in these precarious times this classic musical is on display at the Hippodrome Theatre, albeit briefly, to shine a bright beam of hope through its charming story as well as its delightful music and performances. 
Kerstin Anderson as Maria leads the von Trapp children in song
Photo: Matthew Murphy
Under the meticulous direction of three-time Tony Award winner Jack O’Brien, the talented cast and adept crew bring to Baltimore a sparkling production of The Sound of Music.  O’Brien’s goal was “to tear off the varnish of the past and reveal one of the great, fresh glories of musical theater.”  #hocoarts

The mounting of this classic is a beauty to behold—both visually and through its superb score that was penned by the legendary team of Rodgers and Hammerstein. The book, written by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, was based on the memoir of Maria von Trapp, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.

For Oscar Hammerstein II, The Sound of Music represented his final production as he died nine months after the show debuted on Broadway in November 1959 with Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel as the leads. It closed in 1963 after 1,443 performances.
Several revivals both on Broadway and London followed and, of course, the Oscar-winning 1965 film based on the musical starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, went on to become a spectacular box office success and is presented on television regularly. Two years ago, the live version of The Sound of Music was performed on NBC that attracted tens of millions of viewers.

The Sound of Music possesses a catalogue of well-known songs, such as, “My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi,” “Sixteen Going On Seventeen,” “So Long, Farewell,” “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” “Edelweiss” as well as the title song, “The Sound of Music.”  Musical Director Jay Alger leads the outstanding orchestra through the exquisite score.
In the familiar story, The Sound of Music is set in Salzburg, Austria in 1938.  The inevitability that the homeland will fall (Anschluss) to Nazi Germany forms the backdrop for the musical, and the improbable love between two disparate individuals is the focus.

Paige Silvester as Liesl and Dan Tracy as Rolf
Photo: Matthew Murphy
Maria, performed superbly by Kerstin Anderson, is a former postulant, who has been sent by the Mother Abbess (Ashley Brown) to be the governess of the seven children of Captain Georg von Trapp (Ben Davis), a widower and former Austro-Hungarian Navy Captain.
He treats his children like military underlings.  However, Maria teaches them to sing and a whole new world opens up to the kids and Maria as she is conflicted by her devotion to God and her growing love for Georg.

Simply put, Kerstin Anderson, making her tour debut, nails it as the plucky Maria.   Radiant throughout the show, her crystal clear soprano voice does justice to such songs as, “My Favorite Things,” Do-Re-Mi,” and “Something Good.” Ms. Anderson’s chemistry with the loveable children is a joy, and she displays the romantic connection to Captain Georg with eye-watering tenderness.
As Captain Georg von Trapp, Ben Davis commands the stage with the vigor of an authoritarian father whose icy demeanor slowly melts upon meeting Maria.  There have been sterner versions of the character to be sure, but Mr. Davis portrays the role admirably.  His muscular baritone voice is on display when he joins the children in “The Sound of Music.” And he particularly shines in the moving number “Edelweiss.”

Ben Davis as Captain Georg von Trapp
and Kerstin Anderson as Maria
Photo: Matthew Murphy
Teri Hansen competently plays Baroness Elsa Shraeder, a wealthy socialite who the Captain had originally intended to marry.   But differences in the way they see the imminent Anschluss and a growing affection for Maria doom the union.  
As Max Detwiler, a mutual friend of the Baroness and the Captain whom the kids refer to as Uncle Max, Merwin Foard convincingly plays a pushy music promoter. Max persuades the Captain that the children should perform at the upcoming Salzburg Music Festival as a means to escape in the climactic, tense conclusion.

Handsome Dan Tracy plays Rolf, the love interest of Liesl (Paige Silvester), the von Trapp’s eldest daughter.  Rolf gets soaked up in the Nazi movement and provides a key piece of the drama.  Their duet, “Sixteen Going On Seventeen,” is excellent.
Every great musical has a blockbuster showstopper.  In The Sound of Music “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” is that number.  Ashley Brown as The Mother Abbess with back-up from the Nuns, brings that song home in a truly virtuoso performance that concludes the first act on a high note in more ways than one.

The remainder of the cast supports the leads proficiently.  And, of course, three cheers for the adorable and talented von Trapp children who are on stage throughout most of the show: Paige Silvester, Jeremy Michael Lanuti, Maria Suzanne Knasel, Quinn Erickson, Svea Elizabeth Johnson, Mackenzie Currie and Audrey Bennett.
Douglas W. Schmidt designed a gorgeous set that shifted seamlessly for scene changes from the Abbey to the Villa’s great room to exterior sets—all designed with artistry.

Natasha Katz does a wonderful job with the lighting design that is well-coordinated with the scene changes.  Also, Jane Greenwood’s costumes are spot-on.
The Hippodrome’s dazzling presentation of The Sound of Music brings the classic musical to life and is sure to lift the spirits of theatergoers during this holiday season.

Running time: Two hours and 45 minutes with an intermission.
The Sound of Music runs through December 13 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or click here ticketmaster.com or click here for Hippodrome information. 

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