Opera House Theatre Company as kicked off its 35th season with an outstanding rendition of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic “The Sound of Music.” Director Ray Kennedy has outdone himself, with glorious sights and crisp sounds to awe audiences. The traditional show, while light in tone, is layered thick in an atmosphere resembling America with its own current political divide, making the play more timely than timed-out. It’s a solid staging all around and a hell of a way to kick off a season—and this is coming from someone who isn’t normally a fan of the show or movie.
“The Sound of Music” may boast a nearly three-hour runtime, but it doesn’t seem that long, thanks to its razor-shape pace. It’s a compliment to the well-oiled machine that Kennedy and his cast and crew have created.
Set in Austria on the eve of Anschluss (the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany) in 1938, the musical tells the story of Maria (Elizabeth Stovall), a soon-to-be nun who takes a job as governess to a large family. She falls in love with the children and eventually their widowed father, Captain von Trapp (Zach Hanner). After bringing love and music into the lives of the family, she marries the officer, and together with the children they find a way to survive the loss of their homeland to the Nazis.
During Kennedy’s curtain speech, he pointed out that one cannot produce “The Sound of Music” without a great sound of music. The production has found it in music director Stephen Field. Field captains his orchestra and plays the piano through solemn hymns like “Preludium” and belting ballads in the title number. He captures whimsy in the quick “Do-Re-Mi” and “The Lonely Goatherd.”
The curtain opens with a barrage of habit-wearing nuns invading the stage. The Nonnberg Abbey is brought to life in clever ways that utilize both the depth and scope of Thalian Hall’s main stage. Thalian Hall’s exposed brick back wall gives a real look to the Abbey. The use of a fly rig system is put to great execution, too, bringing in one beautiful mat painting after another, which again adds to successful pacing. That said, the concept of tying both the Abbey and mountain settings together falls flat. While the colors of the stained-glass window of the Abbey are beautiful, the line work fails. And it’s used so often, it earns notation.
Set designer Terry Collins takes a minimalist approach when needed but also knows when to splash the stage with details. The von Trapp family home screams of their wealth but also of their disciplined life, overseen by a Navy captain. Large rooms dressed with just the fanciest of the bare necessities subtly shows his regimented nature before the audience even meets him. Though, the lavish backyard set is the pièce de résistance of the whole production.
Possibly one of the best character introductions on stage is the appearance of Maria over the hills, belting out the title track. Her introduction is done through the theatre house; though, folks in balcony seats won’t see her at first, so it may seem confusing when she doesn’t appear on stage. But it is the only criticism I have when it comes to Elizabeth Stovall’s performance as Maria. She is so utterly enchanting in the role, it’s easy to forget others have played it. She beams with organic warmth and care for the world and her fellow humans. Her pain for the slightest digression reads so real, wrought with self-created guilt. It’s quite an astounding performance, but I don’t think anything can match her singing. Wow! Her vocal control in “Do-Re-Mi” is incredible. She stuns with the opening number but continues through each thereafter as a tour de force on stage.
Stovall shares a solid chemistry that is believable and sweet with her lead man. Anyone who knows Zach Hanner knows just how chill of a fella he is. So to see him show such stoicism as Captain von Trapp is really surprising in all the best ways. Hanner convincingly brings about a pained figure, falling back on all he knows to survive: commanding his family as a battalion. His patriotism for his beloved Austria, when Hanner stands proudly against the impending Nazi regime, will make audiences cheer for him. Hanner’s voice carries a sense of loss with it as he joins in with “The Sound of Music” reprisal and a rekindled passion in the number “Edelweiss.”
The von Trapp seven are solid-serving as well. Jordan Davis as Liesl leaves the biggest impression. The number she shares with Dru Loman’s Rolf, “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” is sweet if misguided. Braelyn Sudduth as Brigitta is a precocious detective, truly funny when paired with any adult character. But the production’s secret weapon is the adorable Katie Grace Marinos as Gretal, the youngest of the von Trapps. She never falters when taking the stage, and the audience’s collective “awws” fill the theatre at everything Marinos does.
The supporting cast also shines. Elizabeth Field as Mother Abbess, with her exquisite set of pipes, never fails to bring down the house. “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” will resonate for days to come, and the team of Beth Crookham as the affluent would-be fiancée to the Captain, and Jay Zadeh embodying the hedonism of family friend/talent scout Max Detweiler, are hilarious in the number “How Can Love Survive.” Zadeh brings a lot of fun to a funny role.
It can often get labeled “safe” or “old-hat” to rely on a classic library of plays and musicals. Known names are certain to drum up business. Yet, when care and vision are brought to them the way Ray Kennedy and Opera House do with their production of “The Sound of Music,” it becomes clear why these shows are classics in the first place.