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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 11, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 50
The 5th Ave. presents The Sound of Music
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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The 5th Ave. presents The Sound of Music

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

THE SOUND OF MUSIC
THE 5TH AVENUE THEATRE
Through January 10


The Sound of Music is perhaps one of the best-loved, American stories that have ever been created. The stage production (which can be quite different from the megahit movie musical) is currently being performed at The 5th Avenue Theatre for its family holiday presentation.

The story is probably better known than any other stage musical or film plot. Warning: If you don't know the story by now, there are spoilers ahead. Taking place in the last year before the Third Reich annexed Austria, it tells the story of a gregarious nun named Maria. Not being the best postulant in the convent, Maria is assigned to be governess for the seven (unruly) children of Captain Georg von Trapp. Persisting long enough to see through the children's impish demeanors, Maria breaks through their icy exteriors (including that of the Captain), teaching them singing and music. The Captain and Maria fall in love and marry in time for the German occupation, and the family escapes to Switzerland and eventually, the United States.

The Sound of Music is a tried and true family musical that is sure to delight most audiences. It just didn't delight this one. The sets are good and the ensemble cast all do good supporting jobs, as their roles dictate. Maria is played by Seattle favorite, Kirsten deLohr Helland. She brings a good deal of stage presence showing the neophyte, optimistic Maria trying to find her place. She definitely has the voice and the persona comes through very well. There's no doubt as to why her face is the literal face of The 5th Avenue Theatre's The Sound of Music advertising campaign; Kirsten shines in the role of Maria. The only negative is that in every scene she's in (and that's most) she seems to be rushed and a bit winded. That's probably because she is (without a doubt) carrying this show.

The Captain is played by Hans Altwies. Mr. Altwies has the impersonal, cold, and flat-toned manners of the captain down perfectly as the role calls for. Unfortunately, he never shows us the alleged thawing that the Captain goes through and his impersonal performance remains the same throughout - monotonous and stiff. Maria could be playing to a cardboard cutout with the same results because the audience sees no chemistry between them at all. His voice is good enough and he does a very good job with the song 'Edelweiss,' which always easily pleases the audience.

Jessica Skerritt plays Baroness Elsa Shraeder. She is beautiful without a doubt and has a voice to match. There's more to being an antagonistic character than wearing a smug expression, but that's more an interpretation by director than the actress. Unfortunately, the conflicts between Maria and Shraeder are instantly apparent and rushed with no time to develop. The audience is left wondering if there is some sort of past history between them, or if Maria maybe isn't the sweet 'postulant' she pretends and has alternative plans from the beginning.

David Pichette plays 'Uncle' Max Detweiler. His character was developed for the musical mainly for comic relief and it shows. Mr. Pichette's choice to play Uncle Max this way (shall we say...very 'heterosexually challenged') has been done before, but it also allows the actor to bring humor to the role. That he does - Mr. Pichette brings the funny. The flamboyant persona adds weight when the character says (in regards to the Nazi takeover) 'Whatever is going to happen just be sure not to let it happen to you.' If the character wasn't 100% fiction, we'd know what's going to happen to Max - there's a pink triangle waiting with his number on it.

Anne Allgood plays The Mother Abbess and does a great job. She brings life to this otherwise dry role, and her voice is exquisite. When she hits that last note in 'Climb Every Mountain,' there's not a member of the audience that doesn't want to leap up, applaud and head for the hills. It's the perfect place and perfect note to end the (rather lengthy) first act.

The nuns and the children all do good jobs. There isn't a single child that tries to steal focus (and that's saying something), and some of them can be quite cute. All seven of their voices blend well, and none overpower any of the others. When the nuns sing the opening Benedictine 'Preludium,' it is easy to understand why this is a call to worship; it is beautiful and beautifully performed.

The problem with the show lies in the directional choices of David Bennett. He, like many contemporaries, chose to cater to audience popularity and change the original script to include songs written exclusively for the film - that came out seven years after the original stage production! It's not the movie, it's the stage production, so why do it? 'I Have Confidence' and 'Something Good' were written for the film production - and although good songs - belong in the film version only!

When movie songs are incorporated back into the original stage productions (strictly to please audiences) they often remove the original songs. This happens frequently with The Sound of Music and Grease - to name only two (and The 5th Avenue is guilty of this for both productions). 'Something Good' replaced 'Ordinary Couple,' a heartfelt song between the Captain and Maria expressing their desires for each other. If the song was good enough to help win the original production the Tony (1960) for Best Musical, then why change it? The musical's original conception was good enough to beat Gypsy, Fiorello, and Once Upon a Mattress, as it was originally written, for its music/lyrics and book - so leave it alone!

Maybe try educating audiences about the original production, and the differences between stage and screen instead of bowing down before them. Including these songs extends the playing time of the show - maybe that's why the plotlines seemed rushed. The first act is over 100 minutes long, so really, was it necessary to include these songs? And News Flash for the movie purists: there are several different songs that were written for the stage (thankfully, at least two were left intact), and many songs appear in different order or are sung by different characters than in the movie; GET OVER IT! If you want to see the movie - stay home and watch it. It'll be on TV soon enough, 24-hours ad nauseum!

The 5th Avenue Theatre's The Sound of Music is a good enough production and sure to please most audience members. But it didn't thrill this one. Maybe that's because I know this cast collectively possesses an immense amount of talent, and only a fractural mendacity of it was displayed that night on stage.

The Sound of Music is based on the true story of the Von Trapp Family Singers, especially the autobiography of Maria von Trapp. Although having very little to do with the Von Trapps' real story, the musical was adapted by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, with the illustrious Rodgers & Hammerstein writing music and lyrics. Opening on November 16, 1959 it starred Mary Martin as Maria and Theodore Bikel as the Captain. Although considered the weakest work on stage written by R&H, it was nominated for nine Tony Awards and won five, including Best Musical. The film production was adapted in 1965 with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer in the lead roles. It won five Academy Awards and was the last musical Rodgers & Hammerstein wrote together.

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