Can an Evergreen Bloom?: THE SOUND OF MUSIC

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Photo©Paul Lyden

presented by North Shore Music Theatre

MUSIC BY: Richard Rodgers
LYRICS BY: Oscar Hammerstein II
BOOK BY: Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse
Suggested by “The Trapp Family Singers” by: Maria Augusta Trapp
Directed and Choreographed by James Brennan
Music Directed by Dale Rieling

62 Dunham Rd
Beverly, Massachusetts
June 11th – June 23rd, 2013
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Review by Craig Idlebrook

(Beverly) Most of us can at least list the essentials of The Sound of Music: Julie Andrews, cute kids, nuns, Nazis.  As a child, it’s hard not to like it.  As an adult, it’s hard not to make fun of it.  As a regional theatre, it’s hard to do well.  Like It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol, audiences know what they want to get out of this play, and too many theaters sigh and go along with it.  It’s like playing with a three-year old nephew through Thanksgiving dinner because it’s easier than dealing with the tantrum.

But the North Shore Music Theatre pulls off something special by breathing fresh life into this musical.  Don’t worry, this isn’t some post-modern take on the play where Maria’s in drag and everyone else is wearing garbage cans.  Instead, director James Brennan and music director Dale Rieling succeed by taking nothing for granted; they want to earn your love with each moment on stage.  It feels as if they stripped down the script to find its sweet core, and then constructed the play anew, absent of artifice, at least until the Nazis get involved.  (Hey, it’s hard not to get melodramatic about Nazis.)

Thanks to their faith in the source material, we uncover hidden depth in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s sweet play.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the beginning scenes, which showcase Lisa O’Hare’s nuanced construction of Maria.  In the opening minutes, the abbey grows into a true sanctuary of sisterhood rather than simply something for Maria to flee.  It makes sense that Maria wants to fit in at the abbey, with the simple, beautiful music that echoes from its walls and Jeff Modereger’s sparse and elegant stain-glass design.  It is within the abbey that she senses she might find the order she lacks.  In fact, it becomes maddening to watch this beautiful soul try but fail to find communion with the sisters, and her struggle is mirrored eloquently by the sad distance between Captain Georg von Trapp (David Andrew Macdonald) and his family.  These two haunted losers stumble and flail until they find safe harbor within each other while the world outside plunges into insanity.

Brennan also effectively employs a strong troupe of children without laying cute on with a trowel.  Diedre Haren (Liesel von Trapp), who doubles as the show’s dance captain, also deserves a lot of credit for making us buy into the children’s growth.  Liesel’s coming-of-age duet “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” with budding Nazi-messenger boy Rolf Gruber (Andrew Tighe) is a sweet tightrope of love and sexual politics that almost seems too intimate for a crowd to watch.

Unfortunately, the play loses altitude in the second act.  Blame can be spread all around.  Macdonald fails at times to create a solid emotional arc for Captain Von Trapp and instead falls back on winsome mannerisms.  This somewhat deflates the chemistry between the captain and Maria, and their smooching in the end is almost SNL-like in its mock intensity.  Rodgers and Hammerstein also deserve a couple of lashes with a wet noodle for making the first act a bit too long and the second act a bit too schmaltzy.  And accents become, shall we say, cosmopolitan in this play.  Maria is a unique soul because she’s clearly British, while we can spot the show’s Big Bad because of his thick Germanic accent, always a dead give-away in Austria.

But as the play comes to its dramatic and happy ending, we forgive all sins because this production succeeds in reminding us in a cynical age why we should care about a plucky family fleeing Nazis in the Alps.

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