For those unfamiliar with the premise, The Sound of Music is set in 1938 Austria at the height of Nazi oppression at a time when saying no to the subjugators often meant the death squad for you, your family, and friends.
The tale is a bold tour de force that highlights a personal journey with stakes as high as they get, even more impactful once you understand it is based on a true story.
Georg von Trapp was indeed a captain in the Austrian navy. Not only did he decline a naval command, as depicted in the musical, but he also refused to fly the Nazi flag, and turned down a request to sing at Hitler’s birthday party; a slight that most certainly did not go unnoticed. Instead of bowing to the dictatorship, von Trapp uprooted his family, left their home and all their possessions behind, and set out for a better life. The musical is, of course, a somewhat more immediately dramatic version of events: the family travelled openly by train to America, via Italy and England, rather than fled secretly over the mountains to Switzerland, but it is a musical, not a biography and although the changes make for ease of story telling, they still allow for a foundation with which to emphasize the very real stresses and dangers of the time for many families unwilling to compromise their values.
That is a lot to pack into a two-hour musical, let alone pause to sing about specific points along the way. Having said that, directors Matt Lenz and Jack O’Brien manage to tell the story with elegance and flow that rhythmically hits every beat without overwhelming us.
The opening sequence with the nuns singing is hypnotic and even though Maria (the formidable Jill-Christine Wiley) has mic trouble, she is able to make her lovely voice heard with little effort.
The children are lovely and Wiley does an amazing job of staying on point while guiding the little ones through their paces. They are all professionals here. Little Brigitta (Katie Grgecic), as the voice of truth, is a bit of a scene-stealer but it is Mother Abbess’s (Lauren Kidwell) mesmerizing rendition of “Climb Every Mountain” that wows the crowd. When she hits that note (you know the one I am talking about) there is a palpable shift in the theatre as we gasp and awe. If ever a note could pull a tear from your eye… (worth the price of admission, or an hour of good therapy).
In direct contrast to the gasps of awe are the gasps of unease that later escape with the unfurling of four ceiling to floor Nazi banners. We are still acutely aware of what they represent then, as for current events. This moment provides an interesting transition in the show, where the audience, without enticement, ever so briefly steps into the role of active participant. When it is announced that the von Trapp family will sing again the crowd responds with a round of raucous applause as if they were actually there in the Salzberg theatre, rather than observing from the safe distance of a plush seat in the Queen Elizabeth theatre as they had been until this point. This is the only time the fourth wall is broken, and provides an interesting unconscious (or perhaps conscious) response to the events unfurling.
All in all there were only two small things to squeak about: the people standing in the wings were a little distracting, as were the short pillars on stage (to give a sense of depth perhaps?) at points in the show that resulted in visually upstaging the actors. Otherwise it was a fabulous show!
Click HERE for a link to tickets and information about the show.