The Sound of Music

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Editorial Review

Traditionally staged ‘Sound’ doesn’t quite climb that mountain

By Nelson Pressley
Monday, Nov 21, 2011

It would be naive to expect more excitement than theatrical comfort food from "The Sound of Music" at the Olney Theatre Center. Suburbs, holidays, chipper renditions of "My Favorite Things," "So Long, Farewell," etc. - it's as down-the-middle as it gets.

Still, director-choreographer Mark Waldrop's production of "The Sound of Music" is bafflingly old-fashioned in the way it looks and moves. Designer James Fouchard paints the Alps on a flat backdrop; curtains slowly descend and actors step forward awkwardly as scenery is changed out of sight.

Why such an ungainly approach? A stab at nostalgia, perhaps, but it's like the last 35 years of stagecraft never happened - odd, because the often contemporary-minded Olney has created plenty of sharp designs. The staging is especially distracting each time the action (and even dance) crowds toward a bizarrely narrow walkway at the lip of the stage.

Visually, then, the show never squares with the ebullience of its famously catchy, uplifting music, which is capably delivered by Christopher Youstra's small orchestra and Waldrop's winsome (and huge) cast. Even in this sweetest of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, wholesome radiance can be toxic if overdone, but Jessica Lauren Ball is genuinely appealing as that problematic would-be nun, Maria. Her singing is lovely, and she's funny and direct with the imperious Capt. von Trapp and his seven chipper kids.

Youngest to eldest, those kids are irresistible, even if Waldrop's staging basically stays out of the way during the singalongs "Do-Re-Mi" and "The Lonely Goatherd." George Dvorsky doesn't quite nail the mercurial von Trapp, though; the handsome Dvorsky's mellow baritone is a pleasure, but the actor never strikes real sparks with Ball's fetching Maria. In fact, the briskly paced show seems to glide on top of the romantic-family-political intrigues; it's seldom interesting when the characters aren't singing.

The notable exceptions are provided by Jenna Sokolowski as Elsa Schraeder (von Trapp's fiancee) and Bobby Smith as Max Detweiler (a music impresario), characters who are too willing to accommodate the impending Nazi takeover of Austria - you know the story. Sokolowski supplies glamour and wit, while Smith flaunts his second-banana skills; together, as in last year's "Annie," they're delightful scene-stealers.

The production has already endured some serious show-must-go-on moments: More than a week ago, Monica Lijewski, cast as the Mother Abbess, injured her neck in a fall into the orchestra pit, and as of Saturday's opening she remained hospitalized. Her replacement, Channez McQuay, gradually lost her usually sturdy voice on opening night, so Tracy Lynn Olivera stood in shadow next to McQuay to sing "Climb Ev'ry Mountain." That is surely not where this show was hoping for its drama.

‘Sound of Music’ isn’t all whiskers on kittens

By Jessica Goldstein
Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011

The song "Something Good" in "The Sound of Music" opens with Maria - she of the outstretched arms in the panoramic hills - confessing, "Perhaps I had a wicked childhood, perhaps I had a miserable youth."

"Something Good" isn't usually included in the stage version of the musical, but director Mark Waldrop elected to use the duet between Maria and the Captain as a replacement for "An Ordinary Couple," a number that fails to allude to any wicked or miserable moments in Maria's past, in Olney Theatre Center's production, opening Nov. 16.

Maria is supposed to be a one-woman charm offensive, a beguiling heroine who do-re-mi's her way into the hardened heart of a military man.

But "Something Good" hints that there is another side of her.

"I'm trying to encourage everyone to explore the darker sides of the story," Waldrop said. "The movie has a reputation of being sort of fluffy and sweet, but there are dark undercurrents.

"Maria is a woman who is conflicted and a misfit. . . . She's set herself a goal to become a nun and she's not reaching that goal. . . . She's a complex character who has a lot of issues to work out."

Maria isn't the only character with shadows to illuminate. "It's sort of a dysfunctional family," Waldrop said. "And by Maria . . . becoming this catalyst of reintroducing music into the house . . . that heals the spirit."

The glee of the soundtrack has always belied a looming, omnipresent evil. Music saves the family from despair as it buffers the audience from the brutality Hitler's Germany is on the verge of inflicting.

"People that love 'The Sound of Music' . . . will find everything they expect to find," Waldrop said. "But I'm hoping people will also find there's more there than they realized or remembered."

Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd., Olney, Nov. 16 to Jan. 1, www.olneytheatre.org, 301-924-3400.