Ordway’s “Sound of Music” summons old-world charm

Ordway’s “Sound of Music” summons old-world charm

Based on a true story, The Sound of Music tells the story of Maria Von Trapp, a young postulate at an Austrian abbey just before World War II who is sent to be governess for the seven children of widower Georg Von Trapp. Maria uses her love of music to bring joy back first to the children, then to Von Trapp himself as they find themselves falling in love. Their happy life is soon disrupted by the demand that Von Trapp report to the German navy to support the war efforts of Adolf Hitler, and the family has to decide what to do.

The Sound of Music was originally written in 1959 by Rodgers and Hammerstein. It was their last collaboration: Hammerstein passed away from cancer just months after the show opened on Broadway. Ironically the last song written by Oscar Hammerstein was “Edelweiss,” perhaps as much his own farewell as his characters’.

The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts has revived this original stage play, under the direction of Gary Briggle. Songs that were left out of the famous 1965 movie, starring Julia Andrews as Maria, give this production a fresh sound for those in the audience not familiar with the stage version. Some songs also occur at different points in the story in this stage version compared to the film, and even die-hard fans of the film may find some of the variations intriguing.

Particularly pleasing to me was the placement of “My Favorite Things” earlier in the show, sung by Maria (Billie Wildrick) and Mother Abbess (Tammy Hensrud) after Maria again has to apologize for signing in the abbey. This production also eliminates the singing of “Edelweiss” earlier in the show and lets the song set the emotional scene with Von Trapp (Dieter Bierbrauer) singing the song knowing that he is leaving his beloved Austria and will not return.

Wildrick, as Maria, is excellent. She transforms from an uncertain postulant to a governess and finally to a woman who finds love when she least expects it. She carries the show from beginning to end, bringing along the rest of the excellent cast as they tell her story. In particular, her chemistry with the seven young actors and actresses playing the Von Trapp children is wonderful. While all of the children do an excellent jobs, of particular note for me is Caroline Innerbichler as Liesl. She has several opportunities to showcase both her singing and dancing, and her portrayal of a girl on the verge of young adulthood is right on.

Of interest is the attention given to the casting of the seven children. After auditioning 600 children in April, the finalists were narrowed down to 85. Casting director Reid Harmsen waited until September to do the final casting, knowing that most kids are still growing and wanting the seven to fit the heights of their characters.  It is this type of attention to detail that contributes to the quality of this first-rate show.

At Saturday night’s performance, I only experienced a couple of distractions. One involved the fluttering backdrops at the beginning of the show – it was somewhat disconcerting to see the brick walls of the abbey moving back and forth – although it seemed that this was noticed and corrected later in the show. The other thing that was distracting was that the wimples (the large white collars of the nuns’ habits) were wrinkled and puckered. Anyone who grew up Catholic will remember that nuns’ wimples were always starched and as straight as a board. The program does note that the nuns’ costumes were provided by a company in Florida, so the Ordway just needs to invest in a little starch.

The Sound of Music is onstage through January 2. In addition to seeing a wonderful show, you can also enjoy the holiday sights and sounds of Rice Park and the nearby skating rink. While The Sound of Music might not be a typical holiday show, this warm production would make a great addition to anyone’s list of favorite things.

Jean Gabler