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Musical Theatre Review

The North Carolina Theatre's Revival of The Sound of Music Is Effervescent

July 25, 2009 - Raleigh, NC:

The North Carolina Theatre’s[] effervescent revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, the 1959 blockbuster musical that the Raleigh-based theater previously produced in 1989, 1995, and 2003, is as pretty as a picture postcard; and its irrepressible high spirits are as infectious as that pesky H1N1 virus (a.k.a. “swine flu”). The slightest exposure and Triangle theatergoers will find themselves humming, whistling, singing the title tune, “My Favorite Things,” “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” and, heaven help us all, “Do-Re-Mi.”

Guest director and choreographer Richard Stafford, who dazzled NCT patrons this past March with his scintillating staging of Miss Saigon , is the straw that stirs the drink in this vivacious 50th anniversary presentation of The Sound of Music. Stafford’s fresh take on this vintage musical is invigorating. He sets a brisk pace for his stellar cast, and scene follows scene so smoothly that the changes are almost cinematic.

The spectacular success of the 1965 motion-picture version of The Sound of Music, which played for more than a year at the old Ambassador Theatre, just up Fayetteville St. from Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, proved that local audiences have great affection for the von Trapp family. The North Carolina Theatre’s rambunctious rendition of the stage musical will rekindle that love affair.

The aforementioned picture-postcard sets, originally designed by Kenneth Foy for Theater of the Stars in Atlanta, GA, provide soaring panoramic vistas of the Austrian mountains, plus detailed depictions of the interior and exterior of Nonnberg Abbey, the von Trapp villa, a concert stage in Karlsberg, etc. The outfits designed by Costume World Theatrical of Deerfield Beach, FL, and supplemented by NCT costume designer Ann M. Bruskiewitz are equally eye-catching; and a cast chock-full of superb singers and spirited accompaniment by musical director/conductor Alfred E. Sturgis and the 24-piece NCT orchestra help The Sound of Music to sound as good as it looks.

Broadway veterans Kate Fisher, Tom Galantich, and Suzanne Ishee were in fine voice last Saturday night. Kate Fisher is charming as Maria Rainer, a perky postulant not quite suited for the cloistered life at Nonnberg Abbey. So, when the Mother Abbess (Ishee) sends her to be a governess to the seven von Trapp family children — unhappy little marching machines, drilled to distraction by their disciplinarian father, decorated World War I Austrian submarine Capt. Georg von Trapp (Galantich) — Maria finds a new vocation as a teacher. Then slowly, but surely, and entirely against her will, she finds herself falling in love with the handsome but much older captain.

When the audience first meets Georg, he is icy and distant, because he is still grieving the death of his wife; but when exposed to the warmth and wit of Maria, Georg thaws and Tom Galantich handles that thaw with aplomb. Suzanne Ishee is likewise terrific as the sympathetic Mother Abbess, who quickly realizes that the boisterous Maria is not cut out for the cloister and gradually helps her choose another path.

Christine Hunter and Vinny Genna provide strong support as Elsa Schraeder, a wealthy widow whom Georg is courting, and their impetuous mutual friend impresario Max Detweiler, who thinks he can make deals with the Nazi devils without losing his soul. Alex Bowers is cute as 16-going-on-17 Liesl von Trapp; and Aaron Young cuts a handsome figure as her teenage suitor Rolf Gruber, whose youthful infatuation with National Socialism is short-lived.

Alex Bowers and the other six von Trapp children — English Brewer Bernhardt (Louisa), Daniel Marhelko (Friedrich), Roxanna Demers (Brigitta), Trey Fitts (Kurt), Gabby Simone (Marta), and Mary Kate Englehardt (Gretl) — are all local, and all of them give good account of themselves. Danny W. Norris and Judy Long also make the most of their cameo appearances as two long-time von Trapp family retainers, Franz the butler and Frau Schmidt the housekeeper.

Magnificent sets and costumes, a crackerjack cast, marvelous musical staging by director and choreographer Richard Stafford, and the sweet sounds of musical director/conductor Alfred Sturgis and the NCT orchestra make The Sound of Music a must-see musical. They combine to give North Carolina Theatre patrons a night (or an afternoon) to remember.

The Sound of Music continues through Sunday, August 2nd. See our theatre calendar for details.