Thursday, February 27, 2014

Millbrook: "The Sound of Music"

From Mary Martin to Julie Andrews to Carrie Underwood, the role of Maria Ranier von Trapp has captivated millions of fans on stage, film, and television in countless productions of The Sound of Music.  Certainly one of Rogers and Hammerstein's most beloved musicals, it is now showing at the Millbrook Community Theatre under John Collier's direction, with a cast of 40 actors from the local area.

Most people know the story of how Maria [Austin Flaherty in her Millbrook debut] left the convent to become the governess for Captain von Trapp's brood of children and soon became his wife. Set in Austria at the onset of World War II and the threat of Naziism imminent, it is the feel-good story of nice people caught between love of country and family and hard choices of sticking to their principles.

Marked by a musical score that contains several hallmark songs -- "Do-Re-Mi", "I Must Have Done Something Good", "Edelweiss", "The Sound of Music" among them -- the Millbrook Company delivers individually and collectively. What a treat to hear the nuns singing a cappella at the start in clear Gregorian manner that switches to the clever "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" that gently questions Maria's religious vocation and sends her on her way to the von Trapp's as a test of her convictions. -- Lead by the Mother Abbess [Angie Mitchell], whose clear tones and effective interpretation of all her songs -- most particularly "Climb Every Mountain" -- keep us engaged.

Captain von Trapp [Lance Eiland in his stage debut] is a widower courting Elsa Shraeder [Jennifer Gay], and running his children's lives with military precision. When Maria shows up and throws things out of kilter with her more relaxed style [she instantly realized that the children desperately need affection, especially from their father], she is an instant hit with the kids but must convince von Trapp. And we know from the start that Maria and the Captain are meant for each other.

Ms. Flaherty carries the show on her capable shoulders. With a clear and strong voice matched with energy and an effervescence that fills every moment she is on stage [and that is most of the play], her confidence makes her someone to watch. Hopefully, she will grace this local stage in future productions.

Of course, there is another younger generation love interest between the teenaged Liesl [Kari Kelly] and a local swain named Rolf [Chris Kelly] who has sided with the Nazis. Their "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" is handled with sensitivity and good humor.

Max Detweiller [Mark McGuire] is a local government official who runs a Festival while taking numerous phone calls from the Nazi headquarters, and is caught between protecting his friends the von Trapps who show nothing but disdain for the Reich, and being true to the business of the new cause.

The children here -- Ms. Kelly, David Russo, Caitlin Garnett, Joshua Russo, Christianna/Gianna Russo, Lilla Wilson, Jaycee Parker -- appear to be having a good time, and their enthusiasm is contagious. Whether they play pranks on Maria, or delight in the play-time she affords them, or sweetly sing and dance their ways through "Do-Re-Mi", "The Lonely Goatherd", and "Goodnight", whenever they take the stage, all eyes are on them.

Though there is a lot of dead-time in blackouts between scenes, the action moves along pretty well, coming in at over two and a half hours. Nonetheless, the commitment of the ensemble, the fine vocal delivery of the songs, and the clear messages regarding being true to oneself and one's beliefs, and the strength of family are unmistakable.