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The Sound of Music
Music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse
Directed by Matt Kunkel
Choreographed by Beth Crandall
The Muny
August 3, 2021

Kate Rockwell, Michael Hayden, Jenny Powers, and the Von Trapp Children
Photo: The Muny

The hills are alive, and so are the trees, the stage, the scenery, the lights, and the video in the Muny’s latest production of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, The Sound of Music. Although there is a strong cast here, for the most part, and the audience loved every minute, what shines here especially is the technical artistry, as well as the integration of the setting with the Muny’s natural environment in Forest Park, with the return of the live trees on stage. The classic songs and characters are here, as well, but what’s especially stunning is the sheer spectacle.

This is a show that the Muny has produced many times, although it’s only the second time I’ve seen it here, even though I’ve seen several other productions in various other venues. Here, it’s the familiar show with all the iconic characters and 1930’s Austrian setting, although a few little tweaks have been made. First, when aspiring nun Maria (Kate Rockwell) is first seen, she’s given a bit of a “Julie Andrews moment” in a nod to the famous film by way of this production’s eliminating the usual nuns’ prelude and Maria’s introduction to the title song. The first words we hear are “the hills are alive”, just like the film. Maria also gets a striking entrance standing on a stump that rises out of the stage, as Rockwell is flanked by those lovely trees as well as some stunning projections by video designer Caite Hevner, whose work is one of the true highlights of this production.  We then follow Maria, who is having trouble fitting into convent life, as the wise Mother Abbess (Bryonha Maria Parham) sends her to test her calling by serving as a governess to the widowed Captain George von Trapp (Michael Hayden) and his seven neglected children, (Elizabeth Teeter, Victor De Paula Rocha, Amelie Lock, Parker Dzuba, Jillian Depke, Abby Hogan, and Kate Scarlett Kappel). Maria’s initial idea is to help the children prepare for a new stepmother, as the Captain has been courting wealthy widow Elsa Schraeder (Jenny Powers), but as most of us know, things don’t quite turn out to plan, for Maria, for the Captain and the children, or for Austria itself, as the brutal, menacing Nazi regime is poised to take over the country.

The cast here is good, with some particular standouts, like Teeter in an especially thoughtful turn as eldest Von Trapp daughter Liesl, John Scherer as the enterprising concert promoter Max Detweiler, and, especially, Parham as the Mother Abbess, who not only displays a strong sense of wisdom and compassionate authority, but also a fantastic voice on songs like “My Favorite Things” and the iconic “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”. Rockwell is a spunky Maria, and Hayden takes a while to find his energy, but eventually gives a thoughtful, memorable performance as the Captain, especially shining in his moments with Rockwell and the children. Other standouts include Depke as the observant young Brigitta, and Kappel in a spirited performance as youngest daughter Gretel. The children as a group show a strong sense of family connection. Powers also gives a strong, if somewhat subdued, performance as Maria’s romantic rival Elsa. 

The staging is clever, with a colorful set by Paige Hathaway and excellent use of the Muny’s turntable in conjunction with the scenic and video design. There’s a particularly stunning moment in Act 2 during the wedding in which set, video projections, staging, and Shelby Loera’s superb lighting design come together to awe-inspiring, almost cinematic effect. There are also excellent period-specific costumes by Tristan Raines. In fact, the production is nearly flawless from a technical standpoint, aside from a few obvious and distracting wigs. Also worth noting is the melodious Muny Orchestra led by music director Ben Whitely.

Overall, The Sound of Music at the Muny is an entertaining, fully realized experience that makes the most of its venue. If you love this show, I imagine you’ll enjoy this production. It’s a well-staged production that truly makes its location one of the stars of the show.

Kate Rockwell, Bryonha Marie Parham
Photo: The Muny

The Muny is presenting The Sound of Music in Forest Park until August 9, 2021

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