I was raised on the Mary Martin original cast recording of “The Sound of Music.” My mother loved this musical well enough to buy the record and I now own the CD for both the Mary Martin original Broadway cast and the Julie Andrews-Christopher Plummer musical. This new version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic features a relative unknown as the troublesome Maria and soars on the wings of her vocals.
Julie Andrews just turned 80 this week. She was 30 when the starred in the movie version. The movie earned her a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination (The movie won five Oscars). The original musical premiered on Broadway in 1959 and was the final musical written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II because Hammerstein died nine months later from cancer. Mary Martin (1913-1990) was 46 when she starred on Broadway as the young Maria. The real Maria was about 25 when she married Georg von Trapp. This Maria is closer in age to the real Maria and while this is Kerstin Anderson’s first national tour, she won the role over hundreds.
“The Sound of Music” took much dramatic license, but the story is that Maria Rainer (Kerstin Anderson) is a postulant at the Nonnberg Abbey and as the Mother Abbess (Ashley Brown) evaluates the postulants, she has questions about Maria’s readiness to take her vows. She also has received a request from Captain Georg von Trapp for a governess and assigns the inexperienced Maria to go for a brief period to teach his seven children. The Mother Abbess remembers her own joy of singing as Maria helps her recall the lyrics to a song, “My Favorite Things.”
After being widowed, the captain has run his household like a ship, with his children in uniform and the servants and kids on call by whistle signals. What has left the house it both joy and music. Rarely at home, the captain has been romancing the rich Baroness Elsa Schraeder (Teri Hansen) with their mutual friend and social leech Max Detweiler (Merwin Foard).
Maria wins the children over, first by introducing them to music theory “Do-Re-Mi,” and later by comforting them during a thunder storm and making them laugh “The Lonely Goatherd.” At first the captain is scandalized when he realizes the children have been given play clothes and been wandering about the village with less decorum and discipline than he had instilled into them, but is softened when he hears the musical presentation the children have learned for the baroness.
These are bad times for Austria. Hitler has come knocking at the door and eventually invades, setting people against their fellow Austrians. This becomes apparent when at the party so many of the guests are not speaking to others. Yet at the party, both the captain and Maria realize their attraction toward each other with the brutally honest Brigitta telling Maria. Frightened, Maria runs back to the convent, but the Mother Abbess admonishes her that the nunnery isn’t a place to escape the world. Sent back, she finds the captain and the baroness engaged, but that quickly is dissolved when the captain and the baroness realize they are on different sides of the Nazi question.
The songs and some of the action of the musical are more compressed than the movie and even the movie compressed the events. The reality of the escape was less dramatic, but then we wouldn’t have had a reason for a reprise of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”
Kerstin Anderson, the Maria for the production at the Ahmanson, is a sophomore at Pace University, majoring in–what else? Musical theater. Her Maria is less prissy than the Julie Andrews’s version and more physically gawky. That is part of her charm. Ben Davis’ captain is less formidable and more humorous than the Christopher Plummer version. Their vocals blend pleasantly.
Three-time Tony Award winning director Jack O’Brien’s pacing seems a bit languid, but that’s not really a problem here with the wonderful music that generations have come to love. The vocals of Hansen as Schraeder seem to indicate that the baroness is not a good match for the captain and Jane Greenwood’s bold costume design for the baroness also creates visual discord. Of course, there’s a matter of the children (Paige Silvester, Eric Schuett, Maria Knasel, Quinn Erickson, Svea Johnson, Mackenzie Currie and the two girls playing Gretl–Audrey Bennett and Kyla Carter Under O’Brien’s direction, none of them are overly cutesy and that includes the youngest Gretl (played by Audrey Bennett and Kyla Carter). Gretl is still cute enough without being cloyingly precocious.
While this story is about Maria, the most thrilling vocals come from the nuns and Ashley Brown has a powerful voice that brings a thrilling close to Act 1 with her rendition of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” Brown originated the title role in the Broadway version of “Mary Poppins” and has also played Bell in “Beauty and the Beast” on Broadway. For SoCal fans of Disneyland, she is also the voice of Disneyland, singing the new Richard Sherman song “A Kiss Goodnight.”
This is a lovely special evening for the whole family although younger children might get antsy after the first act. The differences between the movie version and the stage version can be an opportunity for great conversations and possibly encourage children to read the actual account of “The Trapp Family Singers” by Maria August Trapp. The Ahmanson is the launching pad for this new production which will then tour North America.
Performance Days and Times: Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 1 and 6:30 p.m. No Monday performances. Exceptions: No 8 p.m. performance on Wednesday, October 14. Added 2 p.m. performance on Thursday, October 29. Ticket Prices: $25 – $150. Tickets are available online at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org or by calling Center Theatre Group Audience Services at (213) 972.4400 or in person at the Center Theatre Group box office at the Music Center . For group sales call (213) 972.7231. For deaf community information and charge, visit CenterTheatreGroup.org/ProjectDATE or call TTY (213) 680.7703
The Ahmanson Theatre is located at 135 N. Grand Ave. in Downtown Los Angeles at the Music Center.