Music by Richard Rodgers. Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Directed by Christopher McGregor. A Gateway Theatre production. At the Gateway Theatre on Tuesday, December 13. Continues until December 31
Director Christopher McGregor’s production of The Sound of Music is seldom less than handsome, and it really comes alive when it’s at its most original and eccentric.
The essential story of the 1959 stage musical is the same as that of the 1965 Julie Andrews movie. Uncertain of Maria’s vocation, the Mother Superior of a convent near Salzburg sends the young novice to be a governess to the seven children of wealthy naval hero Captain von Trapp. Maria teaches the children to sing, which comes in handy when the newly minted family—Maria and the Captain marry—has to escape from the Nazis, who have recently invaded Austria; the von Trapps slip away during a singing competition.
Fans of the movie will be surprised by the differences in the stage version, however. My 13-year-old companion was outraged when Maria and the children sang “The Lonely Goatherd” to summon their courage during a thunderstorm, and, to be fair, “My Favorite Things” does make more sense there. And the stage musical contains a couple of numbers that focus more on Frau Schraeder, the millionairess who is the captain’s early love interest. These tunes are okay, but at over two-and-a-half hours, this fuller version makes for a late evening for kids.
This Gateway production is never boring, though. A large part of its freshness comes from Drew Facey’s set. The designer renders the mountains that Maria loves in a series of tall, slender panels that are almost Asian in their simplicity. And the first image that director McGregor gives us of Maria is winning: she’s lying on her back, with her bare feet up against one of those panels singing a dreamy intro to the iconic tune “The Sound of Music”.
Always pitch-perfect, Alison MacDonald makes a warmly openhearted Maria, although there could be more starch in the defiance that makes the character a match for the authoritarian Captain. McGregor has cast a charming group of young actors as the children. I particularly enjoyed Ranae Miller’s tender Liesl, Michael Wilkinson’s coltish Friedrich, and Bridget Esler’s no-nonsense Brigitta. Colleen Winton brings the required gravitas and rich mezzo to the Mother Superior. And for my money, the performance of the evening comes from Allan Zinyk, who plays Max Detweiler, the culture hound who schemes to make the von Trapp family a sensation. Zinyk shamelessly spins Max’s selfishness—his Max grabs mounds of the Captain’s food every time he leaves the stage—and he trembles with genuine nausea as he acquiesces to the Nazis. Zinyk’s portrait is never too broad, but it has the exhilarating courage of size. Ian Butcher plays the Captain. Unfortunately, his singing is often flat, and his love for Maria looks more like sinister lust. Amy Hall-Cummings sings well as Frau Schraeder, but there’s no spin in her characterization. In her bitchy glamour, the movie’s Eleanor Parker is a drag queen’s wet dream. That’s not necessary, I suppose, but for the sake of narrative tension, we do have to buy this figure as a villain.
Carmen Alatorre’s costumes mix many successes (Maria’s peasant dress, the children’s wedding finery) with some failures; Frau Schraeder’s ball gown is an unflattering lump of satin and netting.
But as my young pal declared when the lights came up, “It’s good. I liked it.” Ditto that.