Make us your home page

Review: A half-century later, hills are still alive Straz's 'The Sound of Music'

Ben Davis performs Edelweiss as Captain Georg von Trapp with Kerstin Anderson as Maria Rainer and the von Trapp Children in the Sound of Music. 
Photo by 
Matthew Murphy

Ben Davis performs Edelweiss as Captain Georg von Trapp with Kerstin Anderson as Maria Rainer and the von Trapp Children in the Sound of Music. Photo by Matthew Murphy

TAMPA — Fifty years after Julie Andrews burst into song from the mountaintop, lifting the spirits of multiple generations, The Sound of Music remains a crowd pleaser.

The film has drawn huge ratings since it first aired on television in the 1970s, including the 18 million in December 2013 who watched a ghastly live production on NBC. The touring musical, the most recent take on the Broadway hit that preceded the film, opened Tuesday at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

Given its track record, the merits of recycling this package of grand statements and unforgettable songs might seem obvious.

But putting it on also entails risks, some of them indistinguishable from the show's virtues. At a time when so many are jaded or fearful or depressed, can a story about irrepressible hope still connect, particularly one we think we've all seen before?

That is the question that faced Jack O'Brien, a three-time Tony-winning director who headed this show. He has answered it with bold choices in casting and an enveloping mood of Naziism at the doorstep. O'Brien told me in a recent interview that he had taken steps to emphasize pre-war tensions in 1938 Austria, the setting for romance between governess Maria Rainer and Capt. Georg von Trapp, more than you would notice in the movie.

He makes every effort to deliver on that promise. Some of it is foreshadowed in the script, as when the taciturn captain remarks, "Today it is difficult to tell who is a friend and who is an enemy."

Capt. von Trapp, a widower played with an endearing crustiness by Ben Davis, has yet to acknowledge just how poisonous the atmosphere around him has become. He is too busy falling in love with Maria, who is busy teaching his children about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. If that seems a little hokey, it's worth remembering that the stage musical debuted in 1959, when the wounds of war were still relatively fresh. By the second act, a sense of menace has greatly accelerated.

Like the original Broadway show, this Sound of Music has cast an operatic soprano in the role of the Mother Abbess. Ashley Brown is pretty spectacular here, and her Climb Ev'ry Mountain ruffles the back curtains of the balconies. Unlike that show, which starred a middle-aged Mary Martin as Maria, or the movie with a 30-year-old Andrews, this musical stars a woman who would be a junior at Pace University had she not taken this role.

With Kerstin Anderson in the musical's pivotal role, we suddenly have a Maria who can believably relate to children because she is just a year past being a teenager herself. Her choice between romantic love and a convent, while possible at any age, seems more like a 20-year-old's dilemma than someone with more experience of the world. Anderson embodies the assertive wholesomeness of Maria alongside actors with lengthy Broadway credits. The casting choice seems particularly apt for Maria's bond with Liesl, the captain's eldest daughter (and half of the duet Sixteen Going on Seventeen), played with hormonal intensity and delicacy by Paige Silvester.

The arc of the story unfolds with a sure-handed ease, aided by a scenic design by Douglas W. Schmidt and lighting by Natasha Katz. The convent in which the show opens is a refuge in which the only colors are black and white. The von Trapp mansion invites rose or lavender hues for a dinner party or as the setting for bitter-edged ruminations between Capt. von Trapp; his fiance, Elsa Schraeder (Teri Hansen); and their mutual friend, the charmingly unscrupulous Max Detweiler (Merwin Foard) about the intrusions of the Third Reich (No Way to Stop It, a song that was not in the movie). Out the window lie the Alps, which either hem them in or offer a means of escape.

No account of the cast would be complete without mentioning the children, who make a credible contest-winning troupe and know how to be adorable. Their innocence contrasts with a ratcheted-up Nazi presence that eventually takes over the stage. This real conflict, based on a true story, is what has kept The Sound of Music relevant. The touring production has played that hand to full advantage.

Contact Andrew Meacham at or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

. If you go

The Sound of Music

The show runs through Sunday at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 NW MacInnes Place, Tampa. $40-$110. (813) 229-7827.

Review: A half-century later, hills are still alive Straz's 'The Sound of Music' 12/23/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 23, 2015 5:42pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Pasco Events for Aug. 25-31


    25 Friday

    Feeding Pasco's Elderly hosts inaugural Leadership Breakfast: The Pasco County Elderly Nutrition Division/Feeding Pasco's Elderly will host this east Pasco event to mirror the Ambassador's Breakfast fundraising event that has been held the past two years on the county's west side. County …

  2. Local craft beer of the week: Cherry Pastelitos, Coppertail Brewing Co. in Tampa

    Bars & Spirits

    On Saturday, Tampa's Coppertail Brewing Co. will celebrate its third anniversary with a Florida weisse festival, showcasing densely fruited tart wheat beers from more than a dozen Tampa Bay area breweries including, of course, many of its own brews in this summer-friendly style.

    Center: Coppertail Brewing’s Cherry Pastelitos. Flanking it are Coppertail’s BOMP (blood orange, mango, passionfruit), left, and Pinky Swear (pink lemonade-flavored).
  3. 'Smokey Joe's Cafe' opens run at Show Palace Dinner Theatre


    The Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson takes a nostalgic swing through the 1950s and '60s with its production of Smokey Joe's Cafe, which opens Aug. 26. The local offering of the longest-running rock 'n' roll revue in Broadway history features the legendary pop tunes of hit makers Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber. …

    A local production of the 1950s and '60s musical revue "Smokey Joe's Cafe" opens Aug. 26 at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson.
  4. 10 things to do in Tampa Bay for Aug. 24


    Lalah Hathaway: A Grammy Award-winning jazz and soul singer. 8 p.m., Tampa Theatre, 711 Franklin St., Tampa. $34.50-$69.50. (813) 274-8982.

    HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 03:  Recording artist Lalah Hathaway performs onstage during the BET Presents Super Bowl Gospel Celebration at Lakewood Church on February 3, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images for BET)
  5. How to make a Strawberry Banana Smoothie


    Don't enjoy breakfast but need to get something in your stomach? Cranky around 3 p.m. and need a jolt of energy? Have trouble getting your daily recommended fruit servings? This smoothie is the cure for all of that and more. It's become my morning go-to. The secret ingredient here is kefir, a probiotic product that's …

    Strawberry Banana Smoothie. Photo by Michelle Stark, Times food editor.