IVINS — With its expansive stage and outdoor setting, Tuacahn’s production team had a high bar to reach in their current staging of The Sound of Music directed by Tim Threlfall, with music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. At times, they cleared the bar and used that stage well, like when two horses pull a carriage onto stage followed by a 1930s era car. Or in the final scene when the von Trapp family escapes up the actual mountain lit beautifully by light designer Craig Stelzenmuller. And while the show was generally entertaining and I definitely have some “favorite things” about this production, there were moments I expected more.
The set design by Brad Shelton was smart and versatile, easily and cleverly transitioning from the abbey, to the Von Trapp estate, to the Nazi-occupied festival, and more. However, I didn’t love how upstage some of the scenes were performed, and the large red-rock wings of the stage jarred me out of the Austrian setting. Still, I loved the use of nature behind the stage. Jeffrey Manning’s projection design added much to the visuals of the show as different images were projected onto pillars and other set pieces. I particularly liked the 1930s newspaper articles and video, as both added context and gravity to the story.
One of the most stunning scenes is of course when many production elements come together. Leading up to the festival scene, the von Trapp family sings “Do-Re-Me (Reprise)” during the scene change. Their rich and blended vocals are given a surreal effect by sound designer Brian Hsieh. The massive pillars were draped with blood-red Nazi banners as a large amounts of fog fill the stage. The festival begins and Captain Von Trapp (played by Dallyn Vail Bayles) sings an emotional “Edelweiss.” Grim soldiers guard the scene and some of the best acting of the night happens as Maria, (played by Elisabeth Evans) and the von Trapp children join the Captain in singing the song while conveying their fear. The costuming by Janet Swenson added style and color to the scene, and execution of the whole family’s costumes helped to portray the love and respect of their Austrian traditions. Bayles’s final notes in that song were the cherry on top of a powerful scene that carried the heartbreak and tension of that moment in history.
Another favorite scene was during “The Lonely Goatherd” song. The success of it owed a lot to the costuming as well, which was creative, whimsical, modern, but still fit with the story. The ensemble crackled with energy. The vocals were tight and the choreography, by Mara Newbery Greer, was enjoyable. However, the execution of the choreography is one area where the cast could improve the show. The choreography during “So Long, Farewell” is fun, but needed more exactness, polish, and energy. The same goes for the first “Do-Re-Mi” and the ballroom dancing during the party scene. I also would have liked to see more variety in the numbers danced by Max (played by Jim J. Bullock) and Elsa Schrader (played by Lindsay Roginski). Both actors had great energy, but the choreography at times seemed repetitive.
There were several characters that caught my attention. Sister Margaretta is a small part, but played by Emilie Renier, she was natural and endearing, with a clear and inviting singing voice. Rolf (played by Brady Miller) had a sincerity in his acting that made Miller the most believable person of the cast. His singing voice was strong and rich and served “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” well. Meg Bussert played her large part of the Mother Abbess with huge heart. However, her vocals, which started out strong in “Maria” and “My Favorite Things” struggled in “Climb Every Mountain.”
The von Trapp children were a solid part of the show, both in vocals and acting. Emily Grace Tucker as Liesl often seemed too old for the part of a 16-year-old girl and at times her acting with Rolf seemed inconsistent. But her vulnerability at the end when pleading with Rolf was raw and touching. Ezekiel Weir, as Kurt, and Lilly Mae Stover, in the role of Brigetta, showed nuanced acting skills that exceeded my expectations of their age. When the group sang “The Sound of Music (Reprise),” they literally took my breath away, especially with Tucker’s delicate high notes. The children’s voices blended in tone, dynamics, and balance. The harmonies were resonant, warm, and sweet. As a person that really appreciates the western choral tradition, I was pleasantly surprised at the choral quality of the kids’ singing. I wish the nuns had been able to achieve the same excellence during their several liturgical songs.
At times, I also wished for more in the vocals of the romantic leads. Evans’s Maria started out the opening number “The Sound of Music” a little rough. She seemed out of breath a lot, and her microphone picked up gulps of air between phrases. Her acting also seemed a little frenetic in much of the first act, like she was still having trouble catching the character of Maria. (Or it was just too darn hot, as it was 108 degrees when the show started at 8:45 pm.) But during the traditional Ländler dance with Captain von Trapp, Evans had found her stride, and she seemed to definitely get comfortable with the role by “Something Good.”
Similarly, Bayle’s Captain von Trapp also seemed unsteady at first. His chemistry with his servants, his children, Max, Elsa, and Maria felt a little forced until it sparked during the traditional dance between von Trapp and Maria. By the proposal scene and the song “Something Good,” there was definitely a flame between the Captain and Maria. Whatever misses the two actors had before then were largely forgot in this scene and song. The harmony in the song was especially tender in the final notes.
Though with some minor rough spots in the beginning, The Sound of Music ends strongly in all elements, supported throughout by an excellent orchestra. This is a show that viewers of all ages will enjoy, whether you have all the songs memorized, or if you’ve never seen the whole show. Those with especially high music standards might be disappointed at times, but will definitely enjoy some great singing.