Forget the “Bright Copper Kettles and Warm Woolen Mittens”–or even “Wild Geese that fly with the moon on their wings”. What’s foremost among a theater lovers’ “favorite things” is a terrific musical, staged LIVE in-person, So few will be disappointed with “The Sound Of Music”—the latest offering from “The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts” and “Mc Coy Rigby Entertainment” in La Mirada California, as they continue their winning “Come Back” season, with this, their second production of 2022. Showcasing some of the very best music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, which are perfectly complimented by a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, (suggested by “The Trapp Family Singers” by Maria Augusta Trapp,) “The Sound Of Music” is easily one of the most beloved family musicals of all time. Directed by Glenn Casale with Musical Direction by Dennis Castellano, and Choreography by Arthur L. Ross, mere ‘superlatives’ simply don’t do this, their newest effort, justice enough!
Set in Salzburg, Austria in 1938–just before ‘the Anschluss’ that essentially saw the country taken over by the Nazis prior to the start of World War II, the story follows the adventure (and in a few cases, misadventures) of “Maria”—a young, somewhat nonconformist postulant nun who is sent from her sequestered convent at “Nonnberg Abbey” to be the Governess for the Von Trapp children—all seven of them. Under the strict and often humorless care of their widowed father, “Captain Georg Von Trapp” —a Baron and Naval Captain with many Military honors, Maria soon brings happiness, laughter, music (–and play clothes made from curtains) to the family, while at time bucking heads with their severe patriarch who deals with his children in a stringent soldierly fashion. Bigger trouble begins though, when the free-spirited “Maria” finds herself falling in love with the “Captain” who has himself recently become engaged with an Austrian Socialite named “Frau Schrader”.
Rodgers and Hammerstein have assembled one of their most celebrated scores, deftly causing this, their final collaboration, to be one of those rare shows where its one recognizable–even time-honored–hit song, one right after the other–and each better than the one before it! (As a matter of fact, perhaps a more accurate title for this musical should be: “The Power Of The Sound Of Incredible Music”!) Having been originally planned as part of “The La Mirada Theatre’s” 2020 Season, despite the wait, it can honestly be said of this current outing that it has definitely been worth it, as this one handily reminds us of everything we’ve too-often been missing over the past two years. Director Glenn Casale has shrewdly kept his pacing fairly rapid, (as is needed given the expansive nature of the story and all the various turns and twists inherent to it,) never allowing things to seem bogged down, whilst expertly enabling all of these brilliant songs (which already occur in a startlingly expedited fashion) to be properly appreciated and savored full measure. Perhaps his major accomplishment though, is how his performers’ elocution is exhilaratingly ‘natural’–this adds an enriching ‘believability’ to their acting achievements, while increasing our empathy for them. Moreover, he has astutely ‘shaken up’ and streamlined a few elements throughout the story to keep us, the viewers, steadfastly observant (which also adds to our overall enjoyment of the ‘whole’ enormously.) Take for example, how he’s substituted “Maria” and ‘Captain Von Trapp’s” seminal duet, “An Ordinary Couple” with its cinematic replacement, “Something Good”–widely regarded as a superior song to its stage predecessor; or saving the score’s long-venerated standard, “Edelweiss” for unveiling just prior to the climax of Act Two.
Apart from the one ‘big’ dance number, “The Ländler” (which takes place at “Captain Von Trapp’s” Ball thrown in honor of the visiting “Mrs. Schrader”,) Arthur L. Ross’ choreography is parceled out in smaller doses, inserted here and there in the various numbers where it too, often takes you unawares, thus giving it enhanced strength and vigor. He cleverly infuses the sprightly “Lonely Goatherd” (here sung as “Maria” attempts to calm and assuage the children’s fear in the midst of a thunderstorm,) with several imaginative movement phrases undertaken by all the kids–including an ingenious “Schuplatte dance” (–the Tyrolian dance also renowned in the west as a “Slap Dance”) which practically dares the audience to just try and not have their toes ‘a tapping to its infectious enthusiasm; or how he cunningly fashions “Sixteen Going On Seventeen” as Rolf and Liesel’s flirtatious attempt at a ‘graceful’ Viennese Waltz combined with a few tries at a ‘daring’ Tango. (An unusual mix? On the face of it maybe–but it works stunningly well regardless!) As for “The Ländler”, he’s constructed a jaunty little folk endeavor, with just enough hints of dexterity mingled with elegance, bolstering its presentation to become an utterly engaging intermezzo (to say nothing of a bona-fide peak moment shortly before the act break!)
Not to be overlooked either is the Musical Direction by Dennis Castellano, who keeps the goings-on galloping to a full-on brisk polka-sized cadence! “How Do You Solve A Problem like Maria”—performed as a quartet between “Sisters” Berthe, Margaretta, Sophia and “The Reverend Mother”, vivaciously launches the story while setting up one of the basic conundrums that will drive the plot. The positively magnificent—even ‘Angelic’ harmony heard in the nun’s “Praeludium’ at the very start of the show is bound to leave you breathless—and that’s only ONE example of the exceptional chorale work this production can boast. Later they collectively astonish and amaze with their “Gadeamus Domino” chorus which is quickly followed by “Confitemini Domino” leading into the wedding of “Maria” and “Captain Von Trapp”. Indeed, these sections are so impressive and intricate to the show’s success, this “Nun Choir” had its own “Casting Coordinator”, Lindsay Brooks. But then, to the show’s vast credit, ALL of the ‘featured’ Nuns exhilaratingly have distinct—and developed—individual personalities too. The score also affords a number of incomparable “powerhouse” duets, trios, and quartets, among them “My Favorite Things”—herein set in the confines of the “Mother Abbess’ ” office and shared betwixt her and her recalcitrant ‘Postulant” “Maria”. Transforming the stanzas into a kind of sung ‘game’ the two are sharing, the elder “Abbess” can’t help herself but to get caught up in it’s jovial sentiments herself –the result is a major crowd-pleaser early on. Later, at the show’s conclusion the nun’s come together again—“raising their voices up to the heavens” in a gorgeous group rendition of “Climb Every Mountain” while behind them, we see the Von Trapp family doing just that—ascending the mountain well on their way to freedom and safety. (Yes, you can bet–it’s every bit as inspiring as you might remember it.)
Diane Phelan gives a remarkable performance as “Maria”, infusing her portrayal with an abundance of warmth and humanity. Our chief protagonist who’s is the very heart and soul of all the happenings, she bestows upon us an amiable young woman—perhaps not so worldly-wise but eager to please, although not in any way ‘a pushover’ (as she demonstrates in her preliminary dialogue with the hard-headed “Captain”.) At the same time, Ms. Phelan possesses a truly opulent voice which is a sheer joy to hear during the numerous musical interludes she’s been tasked with. Case-in-point, her very first notes at the start of the iconic title number are nothing short of AMAZING! (And this is barely a taste of the astounding—often ‘operatic’–singing this uber-talented lass will be treating us to all through the tale unfurling!) In short, she’s everything an audience member could want in their “Maria”. In addition, Suzanna Guzman’s “Mother Abbess” is herself refreshingly likable and relatable as well (–and oooh can she sing!) Her ‘signature’ number, “Climb Every Mountain”, placed here as the first act conclusion is sincerely deserving of a standing ovation in itself.
As “Captain Von Trapp”, Christopher Carl too supplies an, at-times imposing, always ‘larger than life’ presence—and although he doesn’t often get to show-off his own substantial singing-chops, whenever he is given the opportunity to it’s always sublime. Beyond a brief hint at the outset with a few quick measures he sings in the middle of a mid-Act One reprise of “The Sound Of Music”, his major chanson, “Edelweiss” is kept as the 11 O’Clock number (–but here too, he categorically amazes with it!) Carl also prevails with his part opposite Ms. Phelan in “Something Good”, wherein the pair share a compelling dual triumph. Still another laudable performance is provided by Roland Ponce Rusnak as the irascible “Max Detweiler”: “Max, it’s a good thing you haven’t got any character,” the Captain fumes at him at one point, “Because if you had, I’m convinced I’d hate you!” Basically, a professional free-loader, Rusnak’s “Max” is a puckish bundle that’s equal parts energy, roguishness and genuine amiability that’s loads of fun to watch—plus, he gets all the very best comic ‘throw away” lines! (There’s a good heart somewhere inside this guy, you just have to dig deep to get to it!)
Commendable in her own right is Joanna Javien as “Frau” Elsa Schrader (for the stage depiction she is an unobtrusive “Frau”—or “Mrs.”, as opposed to her later elevation to “Baroness” in the Academy-Award winning Big-screen adaptation.) In keeping with the ‘essence’ and ‘approach’ of this new rendering, Ms. Javien gives us a delightfully ‘real’ interpretation of her role—subtle and layered—likable even, far removed from the mincing, conniving, ‘Cruella DeVille-esq’ “Baroness” of the movie. The truth be told, she isn’t a villain at all; merely a pragmatic woman faced with a pretty daunting situation vis-a-vis the Nazi invasion of her homeland. Initially, “Frau Schrader” was given two numbers (both cut from the film,) and while her introductory “How Can Love Survive” was unfortunately also eliminated for this re-envisioning, her other (and arguably finer) song, “There’s No Way To Stop It” happily remains. Composed as a bouncy trio between “Frau Schrader”, “Max” and “the Captain”, all three shiningly showcase their striking vocal talents making for yet another Gold-Medal high-water mark in the show. Other standouts in the cast include Jennifer Leigh Warren, who also has a thoroughly ‘divine’ voice which she uses to contribute some A-Plus support as the often-contentious (as far as “Maria’s” un-nun-like conduct is concerned,) “Sister Berthe”; not to mention Cory Lingner who also hands over a praiseworthy characterization as teenage telegram delivery boy, “Rolf Gruber”. Displaying his considerable vocal abilities in the duet “Sixteen Going On Seventeen”, this is a lively spirit-lifter he shares with Jenna Lea Rosen (—a palpable vocal powerhouse herself) who matches him note for note, step by step as the wide-eyed and love-struck “Liesel Von Trapp”.
Then again, a show like “The Sound Of Music” relies heavily on the strengths of its younger cast members, and in this regard “The La Mirada Theatre’s” new staging absolutely flourishes thanks to the talents of the “Von Trapp” children. Along with Miss Rosen (who also adroitly pulls double-duty as the show’s “Dance Captain” on top of her performing tasks) they are: Weston Bagley as “Fredrich Von Trapp”, Ashley Gallo as “Louisa Von Trapp”, and Alma Marian as “Brigitta Von Trapp”, while Erin Yoonsuh Choi is “Marta Von Trapp” and Kayla Anjali is “Gretl Von Trapp—the littlest of the Von Trapp children. Likewise, as younger brother “Kurt”, Oliver Stewart especially surprises with his solo verses in the children’s near-a capella reprise of “The Sound Of Music”, backed by some splendid harmonizing from his on-stage ‘siblings’. In fact, frequently its these brief unaccompanied musical instances (and these kids have several) that make for the most satisfying of the entire show. Such is the case just following intermission in which they serve-up some nice unadorned chorale versions of “The Lonely Goatherd” and “My Favorite Things”. Of course, the most renowned and memorable of the show’s score involves “Maria” teaching her new charges how to sing in an extended sequence titled “Do-Re-Mi” (which famously begins with the unforgettable refrain “Do (Doe) : a deer, a female deer; Re (Ray) -a drop of golden sun…”) Rest assured, this particular divertimento lives up to—and surpasses–your most buoyant hopes, and rates, not just as a great introduction to the ‘Von Trapp Family Singers’ but also as one of the productions’ most soaring high points!
From a technical standpoint, the show also thrives thanks to the innovation and sheer artistry of its design team, starting with Jared A. Sayeg’s on-the-money lighting and vibrant projection designs, which are similarly complemented by Josh Bessom’s flawless Sound Design, which ensures immaculate (and impeccably balanced) sound (–and sound effects) through the whole auditorium. Noteworthy also is Adam Koch’s nimble “Scenic Design”, which is functional but also appropriately ‘Baronial’ as would be fitting of a stately Austrian mansion and a comparably majestic Abbey. Added to them is the vast rear scrim on which is splayed a sprawling painting of the omni-present mountains (of which at times, it could even be said, are almost like an individual player in the piece themselves!) However, it’s the Costume Designs by Deborah Roberts (furnished by Music Theatre Wichita) and overseen by Costume Supervisor Adam Ramirez, that make the show resolutely ‘live’–comprising an intriguing blend of traditional attire (such as “Captain Von Trapp’s” dapper Pin-Stripe Brooks Brother style suit,) while incorporating several coordinated splashes of color into the vintage 1930’s era designs, including “Frau Schrader’s” resplendent red-velvet Ballgown, or the “Von Trapp” siblings baby-blue ‘Uniforms’ (later to be traded for their proportionately ‘splashy’ blue floral print “play clothes’–supposedly made from “Frauline Maria’s” bedroom curtains.)
Isn’t it time to be enchanted at the theater once again? If you answer in the affirmative, ‘your hearts will be blessed’ with this show! Having ‘officially’ opened on Saturday, April 23rd, “The Sound Of Music” is slated to run through Sunday, May 15th, 2022 at “The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts” located at 14900 La Mirada Blvd in La Mirada CA. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30 PM; Fridays at 8:00 PM; Saturdays at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM, and Sundays at 1:30 PM and 6:30 PM. (There will be an added performance on Thursday, May 12 at 1:00 PM, as well as an Open-Captioned performance on Saturday, May 7 at 2:00 PM.) Special “Talkbacks’ with the cast and creative team will be held on Thursday, April 28 at 7:30 PM and Thursday, May 12 at 7:30 PM. Tickets may be purchased at “The La Mirada Theatre’s” website located on the web at: www.lamiradatheatre.com , or by calling “The La Mirada Theatre’s” Box Office at (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310. (Group discounts and reduced-priced Student Tickets are also available for this engagement.)
Production Stills By Jason Niedle, Courtesy Of Demand PR (www.demandpr.com) And McCoy-Rigby Entertainment; Special Thanks To David Elzer At Demand PR, Tom McCoy, Cathy Rigby, Arthur L. Ross, Glenn Casale, Jarod Millsap & To The Cast & Crew Of “The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts” & McCoy-Rigby Entertainment’s 2022 Production Of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The Sound Of Music” For Making This Story Possible.