We’ve all got those “favorite things” that make us smile, whether it’s raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens. For me, local theater tops the list, especially when those performances are Broadway level.
Luckily, the Phoenix Theatre Company holds itself to a high standard I’ve not yet seen it fail to live up to. With “Sound of Music,” Phoenix Theatre ends its 100th year with Roger and Hammerstein’s timeless classic. The musical, which follows a whimsical nun who reinvigorates the von Trapp family’s lives, gets a loving and faithful tribute on the theater’s main stage.
Said stage is mesmerizing, glowing with dreamy blue lighting in the beginning and intermission, with two side walls decorated with winding ivy. Some of Robert Kovach’s sets include Romanesque arches that highlight the story’s religious themes. For much of the play, a vivid painting of the dreamy Alps highlights Austria’s natural beauty — even as the specter of WWII overruns its characters’ lives.
Trisha Hart Ditsworth’s Maria is as cheerful, whimsical and sweet-sounding as Julie Andrews’ iconic performance. Her constant energy charms the audience as much as it does the cast of children, all of whom give excellent performances. In other “Sound of Music” productions I’ve seen, there have been shyer or less convincing kid actors, but as always, the casting at Phoenix Theatre Company is surefire.
Here, the von Trapp children are given diverse and endearing characterizations, from the kind yet reserved Frederich (Morgan James) to the funny, petulant Louisa (Emily Anton). Their enthusiasm for their roles transforms these small parts into sweet, memorable performances that makes their songs — from the chipper sequence “So Long, Farewell” to the sadder “Edelweiss” — all the more enjoyable.
Lynden Jarmen brings sweetness to his role as the curious Kurt; Kaylee Forth gives Brigitta an independent streak that’s not immune to Maria’s whimsy; Cameron Richards gives Marta a sweet and excitable flair; and Isabella Leybovich is absolutely adorable as the youngest child Gretl, who immediately bonds with Maria.
Another character Maria bonds with is the children’s father, Captain Georg von Trapp (Mark Epperson). Initially, he’s a rather charmless character, ordering his servants around and summoning his children with a variety of silly sounding whistles. Luckily, Maria — for all that she’s a flibbertijibbet, a will-o’-the-wisp, a clown — warms his cold exterior, and he soon shows his softer side. The transition isn’t completely believable, but it’s appreciated, especially when he sings with Maria in the simple yet sweet long song “Something Good.”
Where Epperson’s Captain von Trapp truly shines is in the emotional “Edelweiss,” in which his character sings a loving song about Austria in the presence of Nazis. His family then joins in, and their voices emphasize the song’s meaning, as well as their underlying integrity, refusing to disrespect their home country and expressing tenderness in the face of brutal fascism. It’s this thoughtfulness that gives “The Sound of Music” its enduring appeal, and I found the performance absolutely touching.
On a brighter note, I also loved the play’s sequence in which Leisl (Elyssa Blonder), the eldest von Trapp child, has a clandestine meeting with her mailman-turned-boyfriend Rolf (Ryan Ardelt). Director/Choreographer Jeff Whiting infuses some fun into the sequence, making Leisl and Rolf spin around the stage after Rolf spins and balances on top of a fence. Throughout the duet, their voices blend together beautifully.
Speaking of voices, another pleasant surprise I found in this production is the use of Austrian accents. Never before have I seen a production of “Sound of Music” that had accurate accents, but dialect coach Pasha Yamotahari did a great job in adding a subtle layer of authenticity to the performance.
There are countless layers of charm in Phoenix Theatre Company’s new production, which is a faithful adaptation of one of my favorite plays, “The Sound of Music.” Not only is the play wholesome, joyful and touching, but it also touches upon deeper themes, such as coming to terms with change and staying faithful to one’s principles even in the midst of war. This professional performance is the perfect opportunity to see a timeless play done not only well, but with love and a high production value.
The Sound of Music runs until December 29. Browse performances and buy tickets here.
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