Doug Elkins & Friends' Frí¤ulein Maria will leave you beaming like Maria
A Doug Elkins & Friends production, presented by DanceHouse. At the Vancouver Playhouse on Friday, February 4. Continues Saturday, February 5
A running joke in Frí¤ulein Maria, Doug Elkins’s insanely entertaining deconstruction of The Sound of Music, is that the title character always wears a blissful, wide grin. After the show, you won’t be able to wipe that goofy Julie Andrews smile off your face either. Hell, you might even feel like catching the next gondola up Grouse Mountain, twirling with your arms outstretched, and screeching “The hills are alive with the sound of music.”
The New York production is a perfect mix of adoring ode and hilarious parody, with killer dance chops to back up all the fun. It helps loads to have seen the famous Rodgers and Hammerstein movie musical, as the piece rolls chronologically through the soundtrack, playing on the nostalgia you might not even realize you have for the film. Even if you haven’t seen The Sound of Music for 20 years, you’ll instantly get the reference points when Maria dons that wide-brim straw hat, or when you see those chintz curtains hanging on a make-shift window. And it doesn’t matter that Liesl is a six-foot-one red-headed dude: when she strips off her uniform to don her gauzy gown, we know she’s headed for a midnight rendez-vous.
What makes the show so smart is the way it whips through dance styles to reinterpret different scenes, stuffing every segment with a multilayered choreographic mashup that’s as likely to put Balanchine next to breaking as it is to jump from Martha Graham to step-dancing. Highlights include a hip-hopping Rolf who uses his power moves to court a male Liesl; the lined-up seven von Trapp kids pulling off increasingly elaborate slap-dance and soft-shoe routines as they introduce themselves; and the Baron and Maria performing a mesmerizingly graceful pas de deux in their love scene, in which he suddenly bolts across the stage and mounts his naive nanny. And it doesn’t get much more brilliantly warped than seeing Elkins’s own hoodied, sneakered Mother Superior go B-boy on the anthemic “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”— grabbing his crotch to the lyrics “Ford ev’ry stream” as he gets into his flow. It has to be seen to be believed, and it met with all-out whooping from his appreciative crowd.
Frí¤ulein’s production design is suitably low-tech and handmade: the beginning finds the dancers standing under green fabric to create the Austrian Alps, with a white scarf tossed on top for snow and a handheld yellow paper plate representing the sun.
And that makes one think Elkins is a lot like a modern Maria, making playsuits out of curtains, and bringing art and joy to everyone he meets.