WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – For obvious reasons, “The Sound of Music” has long been Vermont’s favorite musical. That was certainly reflected by the unrestrained enthusiasm at Saturday’s opening night performance of Northern Stage’s charming production at the Barrette Center for the Arts.
While most productions of this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic seen in Vermont have been by community theaters, this was a high-level professional production right down to the children. In fact, the kids’ performances Saturday were among the most successful.
“The Sound of Music,” of course, is Maria von Trapp’s story of how she left a convent in the Austrian Alps to become governess for the seven children of the widowed Capt. Georg von Trapp. She taught them to sing, and the inevitable happens. After various complications, Maria and the captain fall in love. Bigger complications set in when Nazi Germany takes over Austria and forcefully demands von Trapp take a naval appointment. Of course, their happy ending leads them to Vermont (criminally not mentioned in the show).
With music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, and a book by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse, the show opened on Broadway in 1959, winning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Performance for a Leading Actress in a Musical for Mary Martin. The 1965 feature film starring Julie Andrews cemented the show’s place as one of the most beloved – and familiar – musicals of all time.
Northern Stage’s most enjoyable production, directed by Maggie Burrows, benefited from some fine performances. Kerstin Anderson was an invitingly homey Maria, personal, sympathetic and an attractive but somewhat reserved singer. Matt Faucher was a particularly sensitive and powerful singer, but not so much as an actor. Still, the interaction between the two was delightfully clumsy – as it was meant to be.
James Beaman was particularly delightful in the comic role of Max Detweiller, the captain’s amoral friend who wants to promote the family singers, and himself. Kelsey Anne Brown was charming and natural – innocence looking for something different – as Leisl, von Trapp’s hormonal 16 year old, both dramatically and vocally. And Gina Lamparella was wonderfully shallow but sympathetic as von Trapp’s fiancée Elsa Schraeder.
The biggest attraction to many is the wonderful – and recognizable – songs, and they were delivered throughout with the joy the audience was waiting for. Most memorable was certainly Alyson Cambridge’s Mother Abbess, whose “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” was as rich and grand than as any one is likely to hear anywhere. (It doesn’t hurt that Cambridge is an international opera soprano, among many distinctions.)
And then there were the kids. At Saturday’s performance, all six performed naturally and convincingly and with no Broadway “slickness,” and only the “cuteness” demanded by the script. They were theatrically disciplined, delivering Katie Rose McLaughlin’s attractive choreography with Brown as dance captain, effectively.
There are actually two casts of children and they alternate. However, having seen both sets in rehearsal, I can attest to the high quality of both. Northern Stage, with its demanding education programs, produces the best youth performances in Vermont, and likely among the best anywhere.
The production as a whole, though effective, was more utilitarian than inspired. Part of this was due to the difficulty of so many big scene changes in a thrust theater (with audiences on three sides). Still Carolyn Mraz’ sets were attractive, particularly the beautiful mountain view, assisted by the creative lighting of Mary Ellen Stebbins. Appropriate costumes were by Hunter Kaczorowski.
Very important is that the production, after the sweet beginning, was underscored with the growing Nazi menace. That is a big part of what makes this traditional musical – and made this production – so compelling.
“The Sound of Music” is Northern Stage’s annual family holiday offering, with performances including many matinees during school holidays through Jan. 5. But, unlike many previous shows, this is an excellent choice for children and adults alike. Interestingly, on Saturday, it was the seniors who couldn’t control their enthusiasm.