CENTERVILLE — I am a sucker for the musical theater genius team Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein who revolutionized contemporary theater and created what became known as “the musical play” blending music, spoken lines and dance into successful storytelling. Beginning with Oklahoma! and continuing for the next several years with a stream of successful musicals, garnering dozens of awards (including Tonys, Oscars, and a Pulitzer), and creating some of the most memorable ballads of all time. Rodgers and Hammerstein also dealt with challenging subject matter in each of their works and were very progressive for their time.
Now nearly seventy years later, their musicals continue to be among the most frequently produced shows world wide, with The Sound of Music their most acclaimed work. The Sound of Music is an exploration of human emotions and dealing with grief after the loss of a loved one. In many ways it is a story of survival, standing for one’s ideals, and how music can break through walls and touch the soul.
Centerpoint Legacy Theatre gave a solid production of this classic and timeless musical. Beginning with the talented ensemble members singing in tight harmonies the “Prelude” in Latin as a choir of nuns. It was a treat throughout the evening to hear this choir perform in such numbers as “Nun’s Processional,” “Processional: Maria,” “Confitemini Domino,” and the “Finale Ultimo: Climb Every Mountain.” Music director Maddie Tarbox did a fine job of bringing out these beautiful voices and helping the cast to handle the Latin text. The featured nuns Sister Sophia (Megan Smyth), Sister Berta (Melinda Cole Welch), Sister Margarreta (Rebecca Bryan), and Mother Abbess (Nedra Pace) gave excellent performances by creating individual personalities of each of their respective parts. Their quartet “Maria” was well performed with gorgeous four part harmonies and accenting the humor at just the right level.
The role of Maria was brought to life by the talented Mickey Pace Larson. Larson is an actress with a wide range in emotion and a lovely voice. She brought much depth to her scenes, finding the youthful energy of Maria in “The Sound of Music,” and “Do Re Mi” while also showing Maria’s nervous excitement in “I Have Confidence.” The vulnerability in “Something Good,” as Maria experienced falling in love and her first kiss was an example of the growth and maturity in Maria that Larson portrayed as the show progressed, with Maria finding a new confidence in supporting her husband in several key moments. This was also apparent in the scene where she comes to his aid when confronted by Admiral von Schreiber (Sterling Jenson) and Herr Zeller (Rocky Revels) and “Edelweiss.” It was a delight to watch Larson in every scene.
The same cannot be said for her counterpart the Captain von Trapp (Sterling Hanks), who was not a good fit in this role. He was not believable as the confident and commanding Captain. His demeanor and physicality came across as awkward and reserved. Much of the subtext in his lines was missing, and he missed a lot of the humor in his scenes. Many key moments were lost due to his narrow range and subdued emotions, such when the Captain joins in singing with his children in “The Sound of Music Reprise,” which is supposed to be an emotional and pivotal plot point, but it fell flat due to Hank’s unconnected performance. The same is also true of what should have been the powerful solo “Edelweiss” where Captain von Trapp becomes choked up as he reflects on his homeland of Austria, though Hanks’ performance came across as a nervous Captain not use to performing in public and forgetting his lines. This was a disappointing failure. Much needed chemistry with Maria and discovery of his character’s feelings for her was also missing, and a lack of charisma made me wonder what Maria would have seen in this awkward and unassuming Captain.
The von Trapp children were very adorable and worked well with Maria. Standouts included the graceful Liesl (Summer Sloan) and the outspoken Brigitta (Brianne Hodge)—who delivered her lines with an engaging naturalness—and the very cute Gretl (Camilla Bruse). I applaud choreographer Liz Smith who helped the children execute the dances with excellent precision in “Do Re Mi,” “My Favorite Things,” and the creative “The Lonely Goatherd.” Both Smith and director Maurie Tarbox made excellent use of the space. The stage never felt crowded, and the movement felt natural flowing organically between the dialogue, the music, and choreography. However, “The Sound of Music Reprise” was out of tune making the climax of the production less impactful.
Several of the supporting parts also brought much life to many of the scenes. Max (Adam West) and Elsa (Julie Nelson Blatter) were dynamic, with impeccable their comedic timing and strong voices. Blatter exuded elegance and grace with each of her movements and the tension between her and Maria was clear, bringing depth to their scenes and interactions. Likewise, Pace had a beautiful and clear singing voice, and she gave a sincere and tender performance as the compassionate advisor to Maria. However, “Climb Every Mountain” felt disconnected and would have benefited from more interaction with Maria rather then performed to the audience as a concert solo.
The costuming (under the design of Sean Bishop) was fantastic and at a level of professionalism generally found only in Equity houses. The attention to detail was impressive in the hundreds of costumes in the show and the smooth transitions (such as Maria changing from the nun costume to the “I Have Confidence” dress) were executed with expert precision. The set/scenic design (under the design of Ricky Parkinson) was another strong element of the production, and the various locations throughout the show transitioned quickly and flawlessly from one to another.
The instrumental tracks were sufficient, but didn’t do justice to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s beautiful orchestrations that can only be captured with a live orchestra, which really is an intricate part to the storytelling. But Centerpoint Legacy Theatre should be proud of this solid production. They have come a long way in the caliber of their productions over the past few seasons. Most notably, the quality and depth in the acting has improved greatly from this reviewer’s perspective.