Capt. Von Trapp and Maria spice things up in frisky and fresh ‘Sound of Music’
“The Sound of Music” might be 58 going on 59, but it’s still got a lot of edel in its weiss. The national tour that opened at the Saroyan Theatre on Wednesday night (and continues for one more performance on Thursday) is a solid and amiable production of the beloved classic, complete with often charming renditions of the songs you know and love. A few thoughts:
The production is traditional without being stodgy. I’ve seen versions of “Sound of Music” that clunked along like a doddering church service, but this tour (directed by Matt Lenz based on original direction by Jack O’Brien) has a lively — even frisky — sensibility to it. Part of that has to do with the youngish cast. Capt. Von Trapp (played by a dashing Mike McLean) has an air of the handsome, misunderstood hunk about him, and there are nice affectionate sparks between him and Maria (an appealing and charismatic Jill-Christine Wiley), who seems genuinely rattled when her heart starts pitter-pattering faster than normal. (No worries in terms of the family-friendly front, however; this is no “Fifty Shades of My Favorite Things.”) With this youthful dynamic, there’s no danger of the love story straying into icky March-November romance territory, which sometimes occurs in the show with a much older Captain.
The Von Trapp children are sweet and accomplished. My favorite is Valerie Wick as the pointedly assured Brigitta, who delivers her zingers with the taut, accomplished air of a future professional comedienne.
The singing is mostly impressive. Lauren Kidwell, as the Mother Abbess, can belt it all the way to Tulare, and her “Climb Every Mountain” has a earthy rumble to it, which works much better than a too dainty rendition. McLean offers pleasant and effective vocals, as does Keslie Ward as the eldest daughter, Liesl, and Melissa McKamie as Frau Schraeder, the snooty, wealthy woman angling to become the Captain’s new wife. (Wiley is accomplished in delivering her higher notes, but she has a tendency to chew her words and get a little nasal in tone in the lower registers.)
The acting is pretty good, too. I particularly like Wiley’s girlish take on Maria. There are a few wobbles: Chad P. Campbell struggles to make a connection as Rolf, and while Kidwell’s vocals are robust, her stage presence on Wednesday night seemed a little stiff and by the numbers, almost as if her movements were regulated by a metronome.
The orchestra sounds substantial. The 11-piece group includes strings and brass, an obviously good thing considering the material.
Douglas W. Schmidt’s scenic design is well conceived. The sets offer a surprising amount of depth and texture to a touring production. Natasha Katz’s stained-glass lighting design is a technical highlight. And while some of the mountain-focused backdrops at first seemed a little too “glow-y,” reminding me of a Thomas Kincade painting, they grew on me. The only scenic element that didn’t work for me was the final upward path to the mountain, which looks less like the beginning of a treacherous journey and more the gangplank to a cruise ship.
Overall, the production is sturdy and appealing. And, yes, inspiring. As I walked out of the Saroyan afterward, I pondered climbing the nearest mountain. Then I remembered the Sierra Nevada is just a bit shorter than those famed Swiss Alps, and just as cold. Perhaps I’ll wait till summer?
“The Sound of Music,” 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 15, Saroyan Theatre, 700 M St. Tickets are $29-$69.
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