For years I've said that if I had to sit through The Sound of Music one more time (I've seen the stage version eight times), I'd just retire to avoid it.
Even with the best professional troupes in big city theaters, the show can be syrupy-sweet to the point of annoyance, and the cast performances can be uneven to the point of distraction.
Thank heaven I was bluffing.
The production of the 1959 Tony Award-winning Rodgers and Hammerstein classic playing at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre through Nov. 17 is more than worth a ninth, 10th or 11th look (I've already bought tickets to see it again).
This Sound of Music is near pitch-perfect — not only the terrific singing (I can forgive a couple of opening night sour notes) and acting but also the engaging tone of the whole production.
Kudos to director Bill Garon, who searched from California to New York City to find the perfect player for each role and then coached them to capture the gentle and genuine feel the composers and writers surely had in mind for the story based on the inspiring real-life Trapp Family Singers. The family escaped 1930s Austria after the German invasion and occupation forced them to take sides and escape, eventually coming to America, where their descendants carry on the family tradition.
Interestingly, many of the best performances are by actor/singers Garon found right in his own back yard, including veterans of Richey Suncoast Theatre (Tracie Callahan as Sister Margaretta, Tad Andris as Friedrich and Derek Baxter as the menacing Herr Zeller), Stage West Community Playhouse (Dakota Ruiz as Kurt, Jacob Rice as Rolf understudy) and local dance schools (Casey Kerns as Marta, Amanda Siegel as Gretl, Megan Sell as Louisa).
The seven von Trapp children each give endearing, enchanting portrayals, from tiny Siegel as Gretl to adorable Catherine Minyard as middle child Brigitta and lovely Sarah Mitchel as Liesl, the eldest, who falls in love with the budding Nazi Rolf, played by Kyle Beckley.
Garon's cast sets the mood as the Nuns of the Nonnberg Abbey open the show in ringing tones of the Preludium, led by the stunning Susan Haldeman as Mother Abbess, followed by the dulcet tones of the winsome Kelly Pekar's Maria singing the title song against set designer Tom Hansen's gorgeous mountain backdrop.
Haldeman gives the most memorable moment of the show and brings the audience to its feet — and grabbing for their hankies to dab tears from their eyes — with her soaring rendition of Climb Ev'ry Mountain to close Act 1. Longtime Show Palace patrons have been thrilled with this gifted singer's previous performances (Mame, Funny/Forum, Thoroughly Modern Millie), but her Mother Abbess is, arguably, the finest she has ever given.
Brian Minyard is a wonderful Captain Georg von Trapp, giving this often caricatured character multiple warm dimensions that ring true and dear. Local audiences can only hope that the Show Palace brings him back to do larger roles, as the supporting one he plays in this production clearly shows why he has been an award-winning performer (and critics' favorite) on the west coast.
Jill Godfrey plays an appropriately cynical Elsa Schraeder, the captain's momentary fiancee; Bobby May is a hoot as the equally go-along-to-get-along appeaser and family friend-in-need, Max Detweiler; Show Palace stalwart Troy LaFon is a perfect Franz the butler; and Sherry Churchill does a fine job as the housekeeper, Frau Schmidt.
Shanna Sell's choreography beautifully blends into the flow of the show, really shining when the von Trapp kids do So Long, Farewell and the young lovers Liesl and Rolf revel in Sixteen Going on Seventeen (though it would be nice if Liesl's bright red undies weren't such a jarring contrast to her pale, filmy dress).
The program is unclear who is responsible for the recorded music — sound designer Gerald Michaels and/or musical director William Garon? — but, whoever it was did a grand job of making it sound like real, orchestral musical instruments instead of an electronic keyboard.
Even though the show is 21/2 hours long, it moves quickly enough to capture and keep the attention of young people and would be a perfect way to introduce ages 8 and older to professional theater.