My day in the hills
Has come to an end, I know.
A star has come out
To tell me it's time to go.
But deep in the dark green shadows,
There are voices that urge me to stay…
The hills are alive with the sound of music …
Those poignant lyrics from The Sound of Music were penned by the dying Oscar Hammerstein II, the writing partner of composer Richard Rodgers.
Which begs the question: Was Hammerstein telegraphing thoughts about his death and musical legacy to his audience?
"It's impossible for me to believe that he wasn't leaving us a personal message," said Constantine Grame, the musical director for the Gilbert and Sullivan Players, the troupe presenting the production tonight through Sunday at the Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center. "I think it says wonderful things about his character, that he knew he was dying yet could write bright optimistic pieces of theater."
Indeed. In addition to the stirring title song, the show features a wealth of uplifting American theater classics like My Favorite Things, Climb Ev'ry Mountain, Do-Re-Mi, Sixteen Going on Seventeen, and the yodel, The Lonely Goatherd.
Interestingly, the last song Hammerstein would write, Edelweiss, is a farewell song to the family's homeland; the last word is "forever."
The lyricist would succumb to stomach cancer nine months after the musical opened on Broadway in 1959. But before he died, The Sound of Music would win the 1960 Tony Award for Best Musical. After his death, it would be made into the 1965 Academy Award-winning film starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.
The enchanting musical is based on the true story of Austria's von Trapp family.
It's 1938 and Hitler's Germany is on the brink of annexing Austria. Meanwhile, the nuns at the Nonnberg Abbey are wondering what to do with a sweet and spirited postulant named Maria who isn't suited for nunhood.
They send her off to be governess of Captain von Trapp's seven children. Maria's bright disposition and love of music soon wins them over. Eventually she softens up the widowed captain as well and the two are wed. But their new marriage is interrupted by the Nazi invasion of their homeland and they must figure out a way to escape.
"The wonderful thing about putting on a major musical like this, said director Jamie Bierchen, "is that tons and tons of people turn out for auditions."
"The characters are so iconic. If you are Maria or the captain, everyone is going to be comparing you to Julie Andrews or Christopher Plummer."
It is often said that life imitates art. Well, life has prepared Taryn Lumia, 29, for the role of Maria. The classically trained singer with a master's in music performance has performed in a variety of Tampa Bay venues and in a music festival in Europe. She currently teaches music at a private catholic school.
And Matthew Ruley, 53, seems well suited for his part as the captain. He performed several different roles in the show during a tour in Southeast Asia back in the early 1990s.
No stranger to the Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center, he and his wife and two children, "The Ruley Family Singers," will put on a show about life, love, family and food on July 26.
The von Trapp children — actors Brianna Filippelli, Marco Camuzzi, Madison Abernathy, Andrew Larsen, Summer Vaughan, Claire King and Chloe Scargle — might just break the cute-o-meter.
Costume maker Mickey Bronson has been sewing like crazy, creating all the costumes for the leads plus eight costume changes for the seven children. She also made 16 nun habits for the show.
Grame said when it comes to comparisons this troupe will measure up.
"Our cast is fabulous. They are playing roles in ways that do them justice."