Backstage: ‘Sound of Music,’ ‘Stay,’ ‘Second Chance’

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.

Power of a single word

When choreographer Susan Shields’s son was 8 or 9 years old, she tucked him into bed. His father, Shields’s husband, had died five years before. She leaned in and kissed her son goodnight. She walked to his door and was more than halfway there when her son cried out, “Stay! Stay!”

“Not because he was scared,” Shields clarified. “He just loved me then.”

Stay. It stuck, for some reason. Shields carried the word around with her for years. Over a bottle of wine, she brought it up with playwright Heather McDonald.

“We discussed all the ways we felt that sense of impermanence,” Shields said. “We’re both mothers; we want that to last. And the greater themes, too, on losing anyone.”

McDonald added: “What holds after loss? After something or someone comes undone, what still holds?”

Theater of the First Amendment’s “Stay,” which will have its world premiere Friday, is the product of Shields’s and McDonald’s shared vision. The production uses the women’s backgrounds in theater and dance along with slide-animation multimedia videos filmed by artist Greg Crane.

There’s something “A Visit From the Goon Squad”-like in the structure, or lack thereof, of “Stay”: nonlinear storytelling, recurring characters, thematic ties between distant scenes. The production came together in a similarly free-form way, as a collaboration between Shields and McDonald with plenty of improvisation from the cast.

Of the experience of working on “Stay,” Shields said, “It’s probably one of the scariest things I’ve ever done in my life.” But she found narrowing the focus of the show to a single syllable to be a liberating act. “I find it to be a very freeing word. It opens up a lot of options. The more we delve into it, the more there is.”

Lansburgh Theatre, 450 Seventh St. NW, Friday to Nov. 27, www.theaterofthefirstamendment.org, 202-547-1122.

‘Second’ coming

Signature Theatre’s world-premiere musical “A Second Chance,” which opens Tuesday, explores the idea of having a once-in-a-lifetime experience more than once. Even though, colloquially, we talk about love as a search for The One, “A Second Chance” offers an alternate narrative: the possibility of falling in love, twice.

The book, music and lyrics by Ted Shen draw on Shen’s memories. His first wife died of cancer, and he has since remarried.

The show stars real-life married couple Brian and Diane Sutherland, Broadway veterans. Brian has appeared in “The Sound of Music” and “1776,” among others, Diane in “The Light in the Piazza,” “Cats” and numerous other productions.

“A Second Chance” tells the story of Dan, a professional man who has lost his wife of many years, and Jenna, a lab worker at Sloan-Kettering and survivor of a messy divorce.

“She’s a hopeless romantic,” Diane said of her character. “She keeps trying to open up her heart.”

“One of the most powerful ideas that we explore is the idea of commitment and betrayal,” Brian said. “If you’ve made a commitment to somebody, and even if they die, how do you reconcile that? How do you wrap your brain and heart around opening up to someone new?”

Knowing each other as intimately as the Sutherlands do brings its own set of challenges for the couple. “We have to banish all that we know about each other,” Brian said, “in order to freshly know each other.”

4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, Tuesday to Dec. 11, ­­www.sig­nature-theatre.org, 703-820-9771.

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