The Sound of Music is at the IU Auditorium in a production that led Wednesday night’s audience to rise for a standing ovation at the curtain.
The musical tells the story of the young postulant Maria. As she’s deciding to be a nun, she’s sent to be the governess for the children of the widowed Captain von Trapp. Maria falls in love with the children and then the Captain. With the annexation of Austria by Germany, the family uses a state sponsored musical festival as a cover to escape over the mountains to Switzerland.
Maria von Trapp wrote an account of the family in 1949. A West German movie appeared in 1956. Originally The Sound of Music was going to be a theatre vehicle for Mary Martin with just a few of the Trapp Family songs, but it became a full Broadway production with music by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein in 1959. The movie with Julie Andrews that was the introduction to the story for many of us came in 1965. “The Sound of Music,” “My Favorite Things,” “Do- Re-Mi” and of course “Edelweiss” are so familiar that I briefly feared we’d have an IU Auditorium audience sing along.
The show opens with a chorus from the nuns of the abbey followed by Maria on that magical hill. The Sound of Music comes from a time when musicals took a bit more time developing than we’re used to and frankly it took a little while for me to adjust. The scene of the nuns arguing over Maria’s suitability for vocation took a while, but it’s a very funny essay on management concerns that extends well beyond abbeys. As the Mother Abbess asked Maria to sing “My Favorite Things” and then joined in we got a hint that the religious life might not be the one for the young postulant.
Against her will Maria is sent to the von Trapp family to be the governess of the Captain’s seven children. They’ve gotten a reputation for driving governesses away, but Jill-Christine Wiley as the hesitant Maria engaged, opened and totally charmed the children and me with her “Do-Re-Mi.” Frankly Mike McLean as the Captain seemed a bit too quick to abandon his bo’sun’s whistle for Maria’s freer approach, but I couldn’t blame him.
Maria has counseled the Captain about the variety of the needs of his children and we get an object lesson as Liesl, Kelsie Ward and the bike riding Rolf, Chad P. Campbell sing “Sixteen Going On Seventeen” and share a first kiss. A night of thunder and lightning drives the children, one by one to Maria’s bed and we’re treated to an energetically distracting rendition of “The Lonely Goatherd.” By the way Maria von Trapp on television with Julie Andrews praised her acting, but gave her a bit of a yodel tutorial. Jill-Christine Wiley did it very well. The tentative tenderness of Liesl and Rolf’s young love is in sharp contrast with a later crass critique of love among the moneyed and powerful offered by the wily Max, Jake Mills and the more dignified husband hunting Elsa, Melissa McKamie in their “How Can Love Survive” trio with the Captain.
Elsa hosts a party with the Captain that’s a disaster. Those who want Austria to remain sovereign and those who want it to be part of a Greater Germany are barely civil to one another. It’s a break in the tension when the Captain takes over from his son Kurt to lead Maria in a graceful traditional dance. There’s very creative staircase staging of the children’s’ good night “So Long, Farewell” and almost on cue, Maria who believes that the Captain and Elsa will marry runs back to the abbey. She finds the Mother Abbess, Lauren Kidwell firm in sending her back to the children with a powerful act ending performance of “Climb Every Mountain.”
The second act finds Maria back with the children for a reprise of “My Favorite Things.” The annexation of Austria seem imminent. The flexible Max and the aristocratic Elsa are quite ready to bend with the wind and try to get the unwilling Captain to join them for “No Way, to Stop It.” He stands up for individual character and it becomes clear that Maria is his chosen in their song “Something Good.” There’s a lovely wedding at the abbey, but when the couple return from their honeymoon the Anschluss has happened. Nazi officials are demanding a flag and that the Captain take up a commission immediately.
There’s a delightful snag. Unbeknownst to either the Captain or Maria, Max desperate for talent for his music festival has signed up the Trapps and even printed them into a program. The clever Maria picks up on the chance, parades the children in colorful outfits and even the Captain is convincing in his commitment to the performance. They do appear on a stage frighteningly draped with Nazi banners to sing a complex reprise of ‘Do-Re-Mi” followed by the Captain with “Edelweiss.” I’ve had tears in my eyes most of the times that I’ve heard that song, and Wednesday night was no exception.
Using the awards ceremony as the cover the family escape to the abbey, where the now Nazified Rolf can’t bear to turn them in and they head up into the mountains with what the program calls the Finale Ultimo of ‘Climb Every Mountain.”
As the cast returned for the curtain call, the audience rose in with everyone up by the time Jill-Christine Wiley joined the group.
The Sound of Music has a final performance this evening (Feb 1, 2018) at eight.
At the theatre for you, I’m George Walker