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The Sound of Music: It’s all about the kids

by | Nov 18, 2022 | Review | 0 comments

publicity photo for The Sound of Music

This bunch: go see ’em. (Photo: Moonrider Productions)

Brace yourselves: this is going to be a rave.

I was so moved during the first act of the Arts Club’s production of The Sound of Music that I was in serious danger of making embarrassing sounds. And I wasn’t alone in suppressing sobs.

Damien Atkins’s performance as Captain von Trapp is nothing short of a revelation.

You probably know the story by now: It’s 1938 in a small Austrian town and a young postulant (nun in training) named Maria is dispatched to act as nanny to the widowed Captain von Trapp’s seven children. Through a combination of her vivacity and rebelliousness, Maria melts the captain’s icy exterior and teaches the children to sing. The household’s happiness is, however, threatened by the Anschluss, the Nazi takeover of Austria.

If you’re going to get this musical right, you have to understand that it is, basically, about the kids. It’s about Maria’s appreciation of their individual natures and their shared desperation for love. And it’s about Maria’s release of that love in the captain. His patriotism, his loyalty to Austria and resistance to fascism, is, in a way, a further expression of the same fierce, compassionate decency.

Director Ashlie Corcoran’s production gets the kid thing absolutely right. In spades. All the time. When Maria first meets the children and they sing “Do Re Mi” together, they are, simply put, having a whale of a time. They’re giddy. They’re fooling around. Maria throws herself on the floor and sings in a voice so low it’s almost a growl. There are also terrific grace notes in Corcoran’s staging of “The Lonely Goat Herd”. The kids act out characters in the song, pretending to be drunks in a tavern, or a very old woman. In a bit that surprised the heck out of me, the characters sometimes lip sync their lines as other children sing them. (I have no idea why this happens, but I don’t care; it’s a good time!) And that’s what’s so lovely: the child actors are playing — and, at the same time, they are ridiculously skilled. The night I was there, Ricky Wang took on the role of young Kurt von Trapp. (There are two casts of kids that alternate shows.) Wang is Mr. Show Biz. His joy, like the joy of all of the kids onstage, filled my heart to overflowing. And, under Ken Cormier’s musical direction, they sing like angels.

Critically, both Chelsea Rose (Maria) and Atkins (von Trapp) have genuine chemistry with these young performers: they’re enjoying their time together onstage.

And the moment in which the kids sing “The Sound of Music” for their father and music comes back into the von Trapp household for the first time since their mother’s death? Give me strength. The way Atkins is playing this scene makes me feel like I’ve never seen it before. The way he’s playing the character makes me feel like I’ve never seen von Trapp before. Sure, we’ve always heard about the depth of the captain’s grief for his wife and we’ve always been led to intuit his love for his children, but we’ve never — at least I’ve never — been so openheartedly invited to empathetically experience them. From the moment Atkins enters, the captain is so much more than a cartoon martinet; he’s a living, responsive human being. So, when his heart breaks open at the beauty of his children’s voices, every heart in the theatre breaks open. The night I saw the show, the place was awash.

And, for the first time in my experience of The Sound of Music, I viscerally felt von Trapp’s fury at the threat of authoritarianism, his rage at oppression. In Atkins’s interpretation, it’s not rote, it’s not theoretical, it’s lived.

I don’t want any of my praise for Atkins to overshadow my appreciation of Rose’s performance as Maria. She too delivers the emotional goods.

My one quibble with this characterization is with Corcoran’s direction in the early scenes, in which she forces Maria to skip through the mountains like a child. Yes, the text makes a big deal about Maria’s girlishness, but Rose doesn’t read as a girl barely out of her childhood, so this physicality feels like an imposition. The actor’s maturity works everywhere else; I wish that Corcoran had trusted it here, too.

There’s depth in the cast: Jason Sakaki’s note-perfect performance as Rolf, the youth who delivers telegrams; Sarah Cantuba’s charismatic work as Liesl, the eldest of the von Trapp children; Megan Latham’s powerhouse mezzo and subtle characterization of the mother abbess; Meghan Gardiner’s sophisticated turn as Frau Schraeder (Maria’s romantic competition); Andrew Cownden’s skilfully clownish turn as Max, Frau Schraeder’s producer friend …. I could go on.

With its constant transformations, Drew Facey’s grand set, remains a pleasure. (It was built for Corcoran’s first crack at The Sound of Music a few years ago.)

So: tears of joy, tears of relief, skilful performances, iconic songs, charming kids. This show is full.

THE SOUND OF MUSIC Music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II,
book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. An Arts Club Theatre production directed by Ashlie Corcoran at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage on Thursday, November 17. Continues until December 24. There are singalong performances on November 24 and December 10. There’s a relaxed performance November 27. And, for the blind and those with low vision, there are Vocal Eye performances on December 4 and December 9. Tickets and information

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publicity photo for The Sound of Music

This bunch: go see ’em. (Photo: Moonrider Productions)


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