THE HILLS ARE ALIVE: ALL NEW 'SOUND'
Jack O'Brien, one of theater's most celebrated directors, has been shaping Broadway since the late 1960s. He made his Broadway directing debut in 1969 with Porgy and Bess. From 1981 through 2007, he was artistic director of San Diego's Old Globe Theatre, which produces Shakespeare. He still found time to win Tony Awards for directing Hairspray, Henry IV and The Coast of Utopia.
So if anyone could take on The Sound of Music, it would be O'Brien. A touring Broadway show swings through the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts next week, and O'Brien wants audiences to know one thing:
"They haven't seen it," he said. "That's universally been the narrative line of all the reviews. Some of them are sort of shocked that this isn't the movie on stage."
O'Brien made several choices to create a darker and more historically accurate feel, starting with casting. Mary Martin, who played Maria in the original Broadway cast, was 46. Julie Andrews was nearly 30 when she took the role in the movie. O'Brien found the playful governess he was looking for in Kerstin Anderson, a 20-year-old student at Pace University.
"I was looking for a jock, a country mountain girl," O'Brien said. "She came into the room like a girls' field hockey player, pretty, but that's not what made her interesting. It was her vibrancy."
He also increased what he believed was a too-soft-pedaled Nazi presence in the movie, set in 1938 and based on the true story of the singing von Trapp family.
"This narrative began on the edge of World War II," he said. "You look at the papers today, and how weird the world is now and how terrifying it is, you have great sympathy for the people in Austria who thought they were safe."
O'Brien said he cannot see news coverage of Syrian refugees now without thinking of this play, or vice versa. He wants to humanize all of the show's characters — including Rolfe Gruber, who romances Liesl von Trapp.
"There are no villains in the show," O'Brien said. "I see everyone as struggling to hang onto their own world, and they really don't know how to do it."
O'Brien saw the NBC musical starring Carrie Underwood, and was disappointed. But even a flawless production of that version of The Sound of Music is not what this touring production is about, the director said.
So why put it on?
"It's a hell of a story," O'Brien said. "It's raw and real and it happened."
The show runs Tuesday through Dec. 27. 1010 NW MacInnes Place, Tampa. $40-$110. (813) 229-7827. strazcenter.org.
IT'S A WONDERFUL CHRISTMAS CAROL: IN THEATER
Catch a couple more Christmas tidings from the stage. The longest-running touring production in the country of A Christmas Carol, performed by the Nebraska Theatre Caravan, is passing through town. Charles Dickens' Victorian tale of redemption promises lavish holiday decoration, ghosts of Christmas past and dance sequences. The show starts at 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater. $38.75-$78.75 (727) 791-7400. rutheckerdhall.com.
Also, American Stage is doing the radio play version of It's a Wonderful Life, with an ensemble cast playing multiple roles. Shows start at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at 163 Third St. N. $28. (727) 823-7529. americanstage.org.
Back in September, leaders of the Florida Orchestra wondered whether the weather would cooperate with outdoor concerts planned for December. Colder temperatures can affect tuning, especially for woodwind instruments.
So far, so good for concerts this weekend. And one of them is free.
The orchestra performs A Holiday Evening Under the Stars Friday at the new Madeira Beach Recreation Center complex. You never get tired of the fare, which includes Sleigh Ride, Fantasia on Greensleeves, the Nutcracker Suite and A Rockin' Christmas. Special guest is Santa Claus, who will talk to your kids and thank you for your contributions to a toy drive to benefit the Seminole Rotary Club's Red Sled project. 8 p.m. Friday at 200 Rex Place, Madeira Beach. $24 (children $13). VIP packages available. madbeachfun.com.
The orchestra gives a free concert at 11 a.m. Saturday in the courtyard of the Sundial shopping complex, 153 Second Ave. N., St. Petersburg. Selections include Pifa from Handel's Messiah, Corelli's Christmas Concerto and Respighi's Adoration of the Magi. Guest conductor Roderick Cox will lead both concerts.