The Sound of Music
By Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II
The holidays are alive with the sound of music
|Skylight Music Theatre presents|
|The Sound of Music|
Review by Harry Cherkinian
Mention The Sound of Music and thoughts immediately zoom in on a young Julie Andrews celebrating life (and shortly thereafter, love) in the hills of Austria. But this quintessential “family musical” had a life of its own well before the 1965 movie hit the screen.
Based on the memoirs of the original Maria, “The Trapp Family Singers”, the daring heroics of the family escaping the Nazis through the mountains of Austria became a Broadway hit by Rodgers and Hammerstein in 1959 with many of the songs becoming standards still interpreted today (“My Favorite Things” and “Climb “Ev’ry Mountain” among others). Sadly, it would be the last collaboration between the creative duo; Hammerstein died of cancer 9 months following the Broadway premiere.
Given its large cast (63 and counting), SOM is rarely done on stage today. Milwaukee’s Skylight Music Theatre however, has brought the beloved show to life in its main stage Cabot Theatre within the Broadway Theatre Complex, just blocks from Lake Michigan. The proscenium theater is modeled after an 18th century European opera house and Director Molly Rhode literally fills the levels of the theater’s arches with the “singing nuns” at the start, creating a warm, angelic glow of sound and light, giving the sense of sitting in a convent while we, the audience, listen in and inevitably “eavesdrop” on the problem of “Maria” and how to solve it (or not).
It is simply the start of what is a great production, providing new insight into a musical we think we all know by heart. Take for example, the song that never made it to film: Max (Bill Theisen) and Elsa (Kay Stiefel) try to convince Capt. Von Trapp (Steven Koehler) that there’s no point in trying to stop the Nazi invasion of Austria with the little heard “No Way to Stop It.” It’s charming, it’s funny and it works, thanks to this threesome all of whom excel in their individual roles. “Something Good” is somehow something better as the Captain and Maria declare their love for each other. And while it takes a bit of getting used to seeing other songs “repositioned” from how they were first “repositioned” in the award winning movie, it all works—quite well, in fact.
Even the Skylight has done its only repositioning. Hearing “The Lonely Goatherd” as the encore to Von Tripp’s win at the public concert brings a much needed light tone to the ominous presence of the Nazi guards waiting to whisk away the Captain at show’s end.
Rhode, herself a talented actress and director locally and with Door County’s American Folklore Theatre, impresses mightily with just managing the sheer scope of this production, including a double cast for various children’s roles and a nun auxiliary choir of 21.
Rhode makes good use of all spaces, aisles included, so that the audience feels very much a part of the show and the “scenery.” The cast excels throughout: in his final role as SMT Artistic Director, Bill Theisen moves just as well in front of the footlights as he has behind them, his Max more down to earth, accessible yet just as scheming in a charming way as ever. Kay Stiefel does much with the stereotypical baroness, giving her some dimension rather highbrow attitude. As Mother Abbess, Cynthia Marty has a beautiful clear tone that hits the notes naturally, especially on the ever popular “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”
And in the starring roles, Stephen Koehler as Captain Von Trapp and Elizabeth Telford as Maria work so well together that their eventual coupling is inevitable. Koehler brings a soft edge to the hardened captain, that shows itself front and center when Telford’s idealistic Maria ingratiates herself quickly and easily into the household and hearts of the children. Telford’s zany take on Maria balances nicely with the serious overtones of the shadow of the encroaching Third Reich as well as the seriousness of the convent and the existing Von Trapp household.
And how about that Von Trapp brood? While Erin Stapleton is single cast as Liesel (in a fine portrayal), the younger ones rotate between two casts. The “Snowflakes” cast at this performance were simply charming.
When it comes to The Sound of Music on stage at the Skylight, the best way to enjoy it is to sit back and listen. You’ll learn a new tune or two to hum as you leave the theater. Add it to the holiday repertoire.
The Sound of Music continues through December 31st at the Cabot Theatre at the Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway (map) in the Historic Third Ward of Milwaukee. Tickets are $22-$65. More information at SkylightMusicTheatre.org. (Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Mark Frohna
Elizabeth Telford (Maria Rainer), Steve Koehler* (Captain Georg Von Trapp), Cynthia Marty* (Mother Abbess), Kay Stiefel* (Elsa Schraeder), Bill Theisen* (Max Detweiler), Ryan Tutton (Rolf), Erin Stapleton (Liesl), Flora Coker (Frau Schmidt), David Ferrie (Franz), Kelly Doherty (Sr. Berthe), Holly Sina (Sr. Margaretta), Carol Greif Schuele (Sr. Sophia), Matt Huebsch (Herr Zeller), Doug Jarecki (Baron Elberfeld), Michael Pocaro (Admiral von Schreiber), Heidi Boyd (Nun, Party Guest), Paula Garcia (Nun, Frauline Schweiger), Liz Norton (Nun, Frau Zeller), Susan Wiedmeyer (Nun, Ursula), Matthew Welden (Servant, Nazi)
John Olsen (Friedrich), Alison Pogorlec (Louisa), Brady Tutton (Kurt), Madeline McNichols (Brigitta), Isabella Lozier (Marta), Asha Metcalfe (Gretl), Casey Tutton (New Postulant), Mary Elsa Henrichs, Sydney Kirkegaard, Mikaela Schneider (Trio)
Cole Winston (Friedrich), Emma Borkowski (Louisa), Justin Ellings (Kurt), Gaby Musickant (Brigitta), Lindsay Nelsen (Marta), Harper Navin (Gretl), Caroline Fossum (New Postulant), Katarina Vandlik, Meg Borkowski, Mary Kayser (Trio)
Joe Ketchum (violin); Ron Foster, Christopher Zello (winds); Tom Schlueter (trumpet); Kyle Samuelson (trombone); Tom McGirr (bass); Michael Lorenz (percussion); Ruben Pirainen (asst. music director)
behind the scenes
Molly Rhode (director, choreographer); Jamie Johns (music director); Peter Dean Beck (set, lighting); Pam Rehberg (costumes); Gary Ellis (sound design); Bernadette Schoneborn (stage manager), Mark Frohna (photos)
*Member of Actors’ Equity Association