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Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice

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The Sound of Music
Dec. 8-18 • Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.
Sunday matinees, 3 p.m.
Thalian Hall • 310 Chestnut St.
$25, $22 senior/student
www.thalian.org

THE HILLS ARE ALIVE: (l. to r.) Katie Sawhill, Molly Lankford, J.J. Niemann, Stuart Pike, Ashley Lauren Ochs, Bradley Barefoot, Kiera O’Reilly, Matalin Bloomfield and Samantha Woodard in the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic ‘The Sound of Music.’ Photo by Chris Ochs.

Generations of women pass the same adage to their daughters, sisters and friends: “Men will be men.” Or, any variation of the following: Men are stubborn, men are selfish, men are pigs. And, according to women all around the world, men will never change.

But wait—what about the baron?

Apparently, no one ever told Maria Rainer she couldn’t change a man. In “The Sound of Music,” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s final musical, which opened on Broadway in 1959, Maria not only affects the life of a cold military captain (played by Stuart Pike) but his seven kids as well. Her story—based on the real Maria’s true memoir—teaches us that with a little bit of hope, a family can overcome it all.

The story begins at a convent in Austria where our leading lady (played by Katie Sawhill) is doing a horrible job of becoming a nun. She sings alone in the garden, dreaming of the hills where she grew up, rather than conducting endless worship. Realizing Maria isn’t ready for this sort of life, the Mother Abbess suggests she take time from the monastery and become the governess for the Von Trapp family, a household with seven kids and no mom.

“Since the death of his wife, the captain travels a great deal because being with his children reminds him of his wife and the life he no longer has,” Tom Briggs, Thalian Association’s artistic director, explains. “But the kids don’t want another governess—they want their father.” Yet Maria’s warm personality and exuberant open heart win the children over.

Thalian Association will present “The Sound of Music,” a winner of eight Tony awards, under the direction of Debra Gillingham at Thalian Hall. Running from December 8th through 18th, the detailed set will feature the Swiss Alps, and the cast of 37 will don intricate Austrian-style clothing designed by Debbie Scheu. The seven kids each have five or six costume changes on their own.

Nearly 200 people auditioned for the coveted roles, and Thalian ended with a cast that includes accomplished college music students and even a local high school’s choral director.

“It was insane but really gratifying,” Briggs shares. “The cast is incredibly strong, and I’m thrilled that we have so many new faces.” In fact, Sawhill and Pike will make their debut on Thalian’s stage in the lead roles.

Still, it’s not all sugar plum fairies in this family show. Amidst the Orphan Annie-like coming together of Maria and the Von Trapps is the grim reality of World War II. Set just before Germany annexed Austria, much of the tale relies on the family’s attempts to evade the Nazi troops, who want the baron to join the German navy.

“The captain is a staunch Austrian and politically astute, so he sees what’s coming,” Briggs notes. “The juxtaposition of the children’s innocence and the cruelty of the encroaching Nazis also adds to the tension of the story.”

The suspenseful drama intertwines with heartwarming, inspirational characters and songs that remind us of the importance of our loved ones. Even a half century later, the allure of a timeless classic reigns. “People often mention ‘The Sound of Music’ as being saccharine, and I’ve never gotten that,” Briggs says. “What’s so sugary about the sexual awakening of a young novice, a father struggling to learn how to love his children, and a family of nine trying to escape from the Nazis? There’s much in the show that’s delightful—especially the score—but the story has a real spine. There’s meat on those bones. It’s arguably the most popular musical in the world, and rightfully so.”

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