Olney’s old-fashioned ‘Sound of Music’ unlikely to make your favorites list

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.

Pressley is a freelance writer.

The Sound of Music

Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Directed and choreographed by Mark Waldrop. Lights, Charlie Morrison; costume coordinators, Jeanne Bland and Seth Gilbert; sound design, Jeffrey Dorfman. With Peter Boyer, DC Cathro, Caroline Coleman, Brendan DeBonis, Caitlin Deerin, William Diggle, Maggie Donovan, Maria Egler, Jake Foster, David Frankenberger Jr., John Fritz, Ella Gatlin, Ari Goldbloom-Helzner, Svea Johnson, Gracie Jones, Heidi Kaplan, Christine Lacey, Julia Laje, Austin Lemere, Sydney Maloney, Tracy McMullan, Donna Migliaccio, Karen Paone, Ethan Watermeier, Danny Yoerges and Carolyn Youstra. Through Jan. 1 at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd., Olney. Call 301-924-3400 or visit olneytheatre.org.

Nelson has been writing about theater and other arts – but mostly theater – for the Post since 1999.
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