Saturday, September 08, 2001

Sound of Music

At the curtain call for "The Sound of Music," which inaugurated Davis Music Theatre's 17th season, there were cheers and lots of flowers for the performers. The audience of friends, relatives, and long-time supporters were celebrating what DMTC does best: give local actors and actresses the chance to do what they love most. DMTC epitomizes the word "amateur" in its best sense: People who perform for the love of it.

And what's not to love in this popular musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein? The familiar tunes are those many have grown up with--"My Favorite Things," "Do-Re-Mi," "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," "Edelweiss," and of course the title song.

"The Sound of Music," directed by Jan Isaacson, with musical direction by husband Steve, is a family affair. It features Wendy Young as Maria, the young postulant who leaves the convent to become governess for a family of motherless children. In her long history with DMTC, Young, who has been performing since age 7, played Liesl in a previous production of this same show. She has now grown into a mature young woman and was a warm and affectionate Maria.

Also in the cast is Wendy's mother, Mary Young as the blustery Sister Berthe, who struggles to find the answer to "how do we solve a problem like Maria?" Young has long been a favorite of DMTC audiences.

The Bruening family is represented by Ben, as an energetic Max Detweiller, the opportunistic entrepreneur who is determined to exploit the singing Von Trapp children for his own benefit.

Ben's wife, Noelle has several small roles, including the "Danke Lady," winning second place at the Salzburg musical festival. Her enthusiastic acceptance is very cute.

Two of the von Trapp children are played by real life brother and sister, Edward (Kurt) and Amber (Gretl) Bianchi. (the other children are Melody Davi as Liesl, Steven Garman as Friedrich, Maggie Roesser as Louisa, Julia Spangler as Brigitta and Ariel Pytel as Marta. Amber's mother, Jeannie, also plays the Baroness Elberfeld)

The von Trapp children are perennial crowd pleasers, and this group works together quite well, even if their harmonies aren't always right on.

Colby Salmon plays Rolf, the young Nazi torn between his love for Liesl and his dedication to the Fatherland. Colby's father Chris also appears on stage as one of the "Nazis/Party Guests" and also plays in the orchestra along with several other Salmons. (There are about as many Salmons in this production as there are von Trapps).

Reprising his role from the 1989 production, Warren Harrison is the rigid, widowed Georg von Trapp, a retired officer in the Imperial Navy. Since his wife died, von Trapp has strictly run his house like a militaristic, humorless naval ship - there is no time for play and his regimented children function like a troop of automaton-sailors. He learns from Maria what it is to be a father

Laura Parkes is outstanding in the supporting role of Elsa Schrader, who has her cap set for Georg until she realizes his obvious affection for the young Maria. This is Parkes' return to the theatre after a long hiatus, and one hopes this is the start of a long association with DMTC.

Dannette Bell, in the small role of Frau Schmidt, the housekeeper, is charming.

Janet McNeil, in her DMTC debut, gives a notable performance as the Mother Abbess, whose affection for Maria leads her to send the young girl off from the convent to find the will of God regarding her true vocation.

Cheryl Barker is making her on-stage debut as Sister Margretta, after years of playing piano in several DMTC orchestras.

The chorus of nuns has been well trained and brings back memories of Catholic school days and singing Gregorian chant. Their habits could be a little more uniform to make the picture complete, but one can't fault their singing.

Costume design is by Jean Henderson and one does have to wonder why the von Trapp children appear at the Salzburg Music Festival wearing the same clothes made from curtains which so upset their father in Act 1. But overall, Henderson has given us a good looking show--and Elsa's party gown is a knockout.

Sets by Steve Isaacson are minimal in spots, but the stained glass window for the convent was very impressive.

The notable thing about this production is the enunciation. Without exception every single performer could be heard and understood throughout the theatre. In these days of amplified performances, this is a rarity.

The expanded 19 piece DMTC orchestra, under Isaacson's direction, was excellent, and greatly added to the production.

Amateur groups don't always have the most trained voices or advanced acting skills but there's a quaint innocence and sincerity that lies at the heart of enjoyable theatre experiences. The connection between audience and performers at "The Sound of Music"'s opening night proves that this enduring musical will continue to draw large audiences. It's a wonderful show for children. And it is in the very best tradition of amateur theatre.

Stars: 3

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