Story: Maria, a young novitiate at an Austrian abbey in the late 1930s, seems to be uncertain about her vows to be a nun. Observing this, the Mother Abbess sends Maria to the home of Austrian naval war hero Captain Georg von Trapp to be governess for the widower’s seven children. At first disapproving of Maria’s buoyant spirit and her passion for music, which he has disallowed in his home since his late wife’s death, von Trapp warms to Maria when he sees her positive effect on his children.
Von Trapp is engaged to a business tycoon named Elsa Schraeder, but he becomes increasingly distant to her as the reach of the Third Reich extends beyond Germany into Austria. Disagreeing with his music agent friend Max to accept the inevitable, von Trapp vows to get his family out of Austria and into neutral Switzerland, despite the dangers of an attempted escape. He looks at his family’s participation in a national singing festival as their best chance.
Highlights: The Sound of Music was the final and most successful collaboration between composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. It won five Tony Awards in 1959, including Best Musical, and later garnered five Oscars in 1965, including Best Picture. Unlike their other musicals, this one featured a book not written by Hammerstein but instead by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, suggested by Maria von Trapp’s memoir, The Trapp Family Singers.
Stages St. Louis says that The Sound of Music is one of its patrons’ most requested shows and, thus, has brought the enduring musical it first produced in 2004 back for a second presentation. David Schmittou, who played Captain von Trapp in the initial rendition, reprises his role.
Other Info: Many of the regular members of the Stages repertory ensemble, including Kari Ely, John Flack, Zoe Vonder Haar, Michele Burdette Elmore and Pamela Reckamp, return to the 2012 version as well, along with numerous other savvy local performers such as Ellen Isom, Whit Reichert, Laura Ernst, Laurie McConnell, Shaun Sheley, Larry Mabrey and Justin Ivan Brown.
It’s a huge cast, one that nonetheless moves gracefully across the Reim Theatre stage in various scenes, whether at the abbey or in the luxurious von Trapp home handsomely designed by Mark Halpin. Matthew McCarthy’s lighting is especially noticeable in the hallowed halls of the abbey, while Dana Lewis’ pleasant choreography is best displayed at von Trapp’s dinner party or in musical numbers featuring Maria and the kids, such as Do-Re-Mi.
Costume designer Lou Bird dresses everyone smartly, from the domestic staff in von Trapp’s home to the elegant guests at his engagement dinner party for Elsa to the ‘uniforms’ von Trapp insists his children wear to instill discipline. The performers who play his kids in ingratiating style range from adult Heidi Giberson as eldest child Leisl to Phoebe Desilets as the tyke Gretl. Matthew Howard plays oldest son Friedrich, Julia Schweizer is the impish Louisa, Braden Phillips is Kurt, Morgan McDonald is Maria’s ‘confidante’ Brigitta and Grace Clark plays second-youngest Marta.
All of the children are fine in their roles, as are the adults, who include Suzanne Ishee as the Mother Abbess, Flack as butler Hans, Vonder Haar as housekeeper Frau Schmidt, Justin Bowen as Leisl’s shy boyfriend Rolf, Sheley as German Admiral von Schreiber, Christopher Guilmet as Nazi zealot Herr Zeller and Elmore, Reckamp and Karin Berutti as a trio of nuns.
Something is missing in this presentation, though, and that’s the passion and conviction that has to carry this often-tired and weary tale. While the kids are perky and enthusiastic, there’s still a lapse in the emotion meter in Stages’ telling of the von Trapp story this time around.
Schmittou is OK as von Trapp but seems more stolid than sincere in this effort. Casey Erin Clark works hard to stamp her own interpretation on the role of Maria, and her approach is fine, especially singing with the kids. Still, it doesn’t really resonate. Additionally, William Thomas Evans lacks the guile of the conviction-less Max to make his character all that convincing.
Ely does well as Elsa, showing her concern at Maria’s rise in popularity in the von Trapp household, including the regard shown her by von Trapp, but also firmly entrenching herself in the Nazi camp. And musically there’s superior work by Ishee, whose powerful voice rattles the rafters in the theater on the first act finale, Climb Ev’ry Mountain. It’s also rewarding to hear Clark and Ishee as a duet on My Favorite Things.
This Sound of Music is a nearly three-hour production under the devoted direction and musical staging of Michael Hamilton, who receives solid support from musical director Lisa Campbell Albert as well as Stuart Elmore’s lush orchestral design. As mentioned above, Lewis’ choreography enlivens proceedings at times, too. Just not enough times.
Musical: The Sound of Music
Group: Stages St. Louis
Venue: Reim Theatre, Kirkwood Civic Center, 111 South Geyer Road
Dates: Through August 19
Tickets: From $15 to $55; contact 821-2407 or stagesstlouis.org
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Peter Wochniak