OGDEN — Like many people worldwide, I have spent this week glued to the news of what is happening in Ukraine. My heart ached as I heard of people who left everything, grabbed their children and pets and fled to neighboring Poland to escape the approaching Russian army. This was all buzzing in my mind as I went to watch the Ziegfeld Theater’s production of the timeless Rodgers and Hammerstein masterpiece, The Sound of Music. I have rarely sat through a production that felt so poignant and timely as this incredibly well-done version.
A great deal of the show rests on having the right Maria, as Dame Julie Andrews casts a long shadow. Without a doubt, Emilie Starr is the best Maria I have seen live, and she gives an astounding performance. Starr has an expressive face that communicates more with a look than most people can with a five-page monologue. Certain numbers like “The Sound of Music” — which can feel long with a lonely actress on stage singing — were painted brightly by Starr with expressions and were full of action. Starr’s singing is phenomenal as she fills the theatre with her powerful voice and leads the young von Trapps in “Do-Re-Mi” and “My Favorite Things.” If Starr looks familiar, it might be because she is the current host of Random Acts on BYUtv.
The counterpart to Maria is the challenging role of Captain von Trapp played by Caleb Parry. I have seen many men try and fail to give as strong of a performance as Caleb Parry, who manages to play a stern and exacting military man who softens just enough at all the right times to allow his heart to open to Maria. The chemistry between Maria and the Captain is critical to the plot, and Starr and Caleb Parry portrayed that electric connection as they dance the Ländler together and speak volumes about their feelings with each look in the other’s eyes. Later as they sing “Something Good,” their voices blend beautifully and solidify the love the characters have for each other to help them with the hard choice they will have to make to flee.
The children of the von Trapp family are double cast, and I saw the Captain Cast on opening night. All of the children were adorable, especially Ruby Ames as little Gretl. There was one dropped line in “So Long, Farewell,” but the children were cute and impressive, particularly Holden Bateman as Kurt, who nailed the high note for “So Long, Farewell.” All the singing the children did in their songs, like “Do-Re-Mi” and “The Lonely Goatherd,” was excellent in tone, energy, and choreography.
The eldest von Trapp child, Liesl, was played by Keely Parry and was adorable in her young love for Rolf (played by Alma Lambson). However, during the pas de deux in “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” Cooper was the weaker partner, as Keely Parry was graceful and outdanced him considerably. But the young love chemistry between the two made up for Cooper’s lower dance skills, and he did partner well on the lifts.
While the principal actors are astounding in this show, there were a few supporting actors whose performances were not as strong. As the Mother Abbess, Christianna Szymanski gets to sing the iconic song, “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” at the end of Act I. It is a song in C major and normally has a strong soprano cast because it requires high-powered operatic singing which Szymanski could not quite manage. While her lower range is nice during her duets with Maria and blends very well with all the other nuns, the power belt that should bring me to tears was not there.
The other supporting role that failed to impress me was Max Detweiller, played by Ben Ames. I wish he had been ordered to cut his hair before opening night. While it is very beautiful red hair, it covered his face a great deal of the time and made his performance less expressive. Max is meant to serve as comic relief and show the folly making self-serving decisions without conviction of his own, and it seemed that Ames missed a lot of moments in his interpretation. I’ve seen Max as silly and as conniving, but Ames’s Max was just not committed to anything. Even in his number “No Way to Stop It” with Elsa (played by Sariah Shumate) he half-marked all his moves to make them smaller and less committed. (Update: Since publishing this review, I have learned that Ames was a last-minute addition to the cast and had only two weeks to prepare for his theatrical debut. With this in mind, I commend Ames for his total commitment to the adage “The show must go on” and stepping into such a nuanced role to help the production open as scheduled.)
Those weaker roles aside, overall the whole show is very cohesive under director Morgan Parry, with blocking that uses the space well. Choreographer Dylan Floyd Panter enhanced many of the numbers with a delicate and clean dancing that was well executed by the actors. Leading man Caleb Parry also delivered an excellent set and projection design. The wagon set pieces are sparse and give just the right amount of setting, while the main focus is on the superb acting.
The projections of the cathedral and the outdoors of Salzburg were beautiful as a backdrop to the action. I really liked how the projections timed with the sound design by Rebecca Knowles during the lightning scene. The costume design by Stephanie Colyar was good, especially for the children, nuns, and gentlemen. There were places where dresses were not period accurate, but nothing was ever detracting from the play.
It takes a lot of pieces for a play to come together so well that I forget I am watching a show and instead feel the moment feels real. That powerful moment for me was watching Captain von Trapp sing “Edelweiss” under the Nazi flags. As he watched his country crumble to a new regime and had to say goodbye to his home, I was touched beyond words at Caleb Parry’s performance, which was rich with all the implied subtext. The Ziegfeld’s show is one of the best non-Equity productions of The Sound of Music that I have ever seen, and it is one that feels so timely right now. Supposedly, those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, and I hope that everyone goes to this production and shares it with their children to talk about the important issues of standing up for what we believe in a world that is changing quickly, but still holds hope if we will stand for what is right.