A resplendent and spirited revival of The Sound of Music in downtown Boston.
The Sound of Music, music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, book by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse. Staged by Networks Presentations at the Boch Center, Wang Theatre, 270 Tremont St., Boston, MA, through May 13.
By Robert Israel
“How do you solve a problem like Maria?” sing the nuns in the Nonnberg Abbey during the opening number of this evergreen musical, now being given a resplendent and spirited production at the Wang Theatre. But the nuns have it wrong. The lyric that they should be singing is “How do you solve a problem like the Anschluss?”
The time: the late 1930s. The setting: a remote mountain village in Austria. The scenery looks as it has been lifted from Maxfield Parish’s easels, and book focuses on the plight of the innocent who must reckon with jackbooted Nazis when they storm-troop into Austria to seize control of the nation as an annexed part of the German Reich. With the exception of a cluster of dissenters – the aforementioned nuns and Captain Georg von Trapp (Issac Ryckeghem) and his brood of seven children – the Nazis are welcomed with open arms.
Yet, when the play opens, the nuns and their sweet-faced postulant Maria Rainer (Jill-Christine Wiley), are consumed by praying and pondering such vexing questions as “How do you catch a moonbeam in your hand?” This puzzling naïveté sets the tone for the introduction of the grim conflict – set into motion in act one and resolved in act two — brought on by the impending Anschluss.
The story of the von Trapps – who escaped the Nazi tyranny, eventually resettling in Stowe, Vermont – is well known. The songs have been ground into the national consciousness via the Hollywood movie version starring Julie Andrews (with some assistance by jazz titans, particularly John Coltrane, who recorded a stellar version of “My Favorite Things”). Familiarity can often breed mediocrity, but this production eludes that fate. The staging brings a freshness to the score, a vibrancy to the singing, and has generated a pleasing marriage of players, orchestra, and set design. This Sound of Music commands attention because it works to being immediacy to a well- and oft-told tale.
Praise goes to the Lauren Kidwell, who belts out a stirring version of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” a song that captures the spirit of Maria’s individual quest and, later, the von Trapp family’s decision to flee Austria and journey on the rocky road to freedom.
The lead, Jill-Christine Wiley, is initially a bit awkward; she has trouble warming up to putting the songs across as well as the demands of the role. But she quickly grows out of this tentativeness and ends up suppling a rousing performance. There are several wooden performances by minor players – particularly Chad P. Campbell who plays Rolf, Leisl’s love interest. The ensemble of seven children are winning, even if their coquettishness sometimes becomes hamminess. During the second act, when the von Trapp family performs against the backdrop of the Nazi flags, the effect is chilling. Our gaze is held by the bright red and black swastikas, which seem to be leering back at us. The image is disquieting because it is suffocating; it makes a relevant statement about the costs of freedom. To go along and get along, as several characters in the play choose to do, suggests the thin line between civilization and barbarity.
So this production is a fine one, and comes at a time when another Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Carousel, is being nominated for numerous Tony Awards for a revival that is wowing them on Broadway. It is not by accident that these ‘old’ musicals are being dusted off and taken on the road. They are still charismatic, filled with beautiful and meaningful songs placed in stories that are simply and powerfully told. When these shows are infused with guns-ho talent – and there is an abundance of that on display in this revival of Sound of Music – these warhorses can still gallop down the track in style.
Robert Israel writes about theater, travel, and the arts, and is a member of Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE). He can be reached at email@example.com.
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