KAYSVILLE — The hills are certainly alive, as theater has come back in full swing this summer. The Sound of Music is one of the most well known shows in the American musical theatre canon, and Hopebox has taken on the task of bringing this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic to the stage.
Rather than performing in their smaller venue, the producers have moved the show to the outdoor amphitheater at Syracuse Arts Academy, which was a wise move. Director Jan Williams was able to make some fun choices in the space. One nice touch occurred after the opening number with the nuns in the abbey; Maria (played by Samantha Wursten), actually sang about the hills being alive while walking behind the audience on the hill of the amphitheater. The set of the production, designed by Curtis Dalton, was versatile, going from the abbey to the Von Trapp home to the hills to make a seamless transition to Maria’s first song.
The costumes, by lead costume designer Kathy Richmond, were hit and miss. The habits of the nuns were an example of a costume that worked well. (Having spent many months in a habit myself, I learned a great deal about the proper way to wear a habit, and I pay close attention now to if an actor wears a habit appropriately.) Maria and the children also looked fantastic, but some of the other women’s formal attire and men’s clothing did not fit the 1930s setting. I do understand that Hopebox does not have the funding of some of the bigger theatres in the area, and they try and utilize as much of the money that they have coming in for their charitable cause, but I have seen better work with their costuming in the past.
The music direction, by Jason Steed, was definitely a highlight. The nuns’ voices blended fantastically, and the glorious sound in the opening number was a superb way for the show to begin. However, the sound system continues to plague the Syracuse Arts Academy Amphitheater, and this production of The Sound of Music was its latest victim. Sound tech Mark Pozzuoli had obviously tried to produce high quality sound content, but the common problem of mics cutting out during songs was still ever present. Additionally, the thunder that was chosen was so loud that the birds perched above the stage reacted by chirping loudly and seeking cover (I wished that I could also run and be comforted on Maria’s bed.), and yet other effects were so quiet I had to wonder if they were even there. The venue is beautiful and spacious, and has so much going for it, but an upgrade to the sound system would be such a welcome investment.
Wursten has a lovely voice and a spunky nature that is essential to the character of Maria. Stepping into a family like the Von Trapps, who have lost their mother and are stuck in a military form of mind and quickly winning them over seems a bit too good to be true. But Wursten made it seem quite possible. Damon Yauney was excellent in his portrayal of Captain Von Trapp. He had the strong sense of someone who wants to raise his children in discipline and love, but also the willingness to learn and be open. Yauney had great chemistry with Wursten as Maria as well.
One of the standouts in the large cast was little Gretl, played by Julia Eisenbarth. It is not hard to be a standout when an actor is a cute young thing, but Eisenbarth was also impeccable with her pitch and timing. She has a good future ahead of her in the acting world. Additionally, Leisl, played by Lexie LaFeber, had more of a character development to her than I have seen in other productions of this show, which was a very nice interpretation. The other Von Trapp siblings all played their parts well, and the full group were fantastic in their harmonies and entertaining of the crowd. It is clear that the casting was well done and it was simple to believe that this was a group of siblings.
Hopebox is a lovely organization in Davis County that donates the proceeds of each show to a different cancer survivor. Information about the selected recipient is available online and at the show. Hopebox’s production of The Sound of Music is both a good cause and a pleasant evening of entertainment.