MAGNA — The cast of The Sound of Music at the small, charming Empress Theatre is packed with big talent. Although many theatres have this classic show scheduled for this year, this production of The Sound of Music is well worth the drive to Magna.
A major highlight of this production is the incredible set design led by scenic artist Kathy Eldredge. The theater is painted to resemble the Alps, and the attention to detail here is immaculate. It was easy to believe that I was actually in Austria watching the events of this show unfold.
The show opens with a bang as the chorus of nuns proceed down the aisles and fill the stage, all while singing the opening number completely a capella. The musical talent among the nuns is plainly evident. Although the nuns sang the entire opening number without any accompaniment, they remained completely in tune, their voices blended wonderfully, and their harmonies were beautiful. This is no easy feat, and the music director MeriLynne Michaelis‘s hard work with the cast paid off wonderfully in the opening moments and in the rest of Rodgers and Hammerstein‘s score.
Leading the cast is Laura Strong as Maria Rainer. Strong has a beautiful voice, although unfortunately a great deal of her spoken and singing lines throughout the performance were lost due to numerous microphone issues. Nevertheless, Strong continued on with her performance and did not let technical mishaps impact her focus onstage. Strong has a wonderful chemistry with all of the Von Trapp children, and it is a joy to watch her character’s relationship with them grow throughout the show. However, I would have liked to see more chemistry between Strong and Don Smith, who played Captain Von Trapp. Their romance seemed to come out of nowhere, and it did not seem like there was much build up or development to the moment that the two characters realize they are in love.
The Von Trapp children are adorable and work very well together. Director Judy Cook Binns, who also choreographed the production, has clearly spent a lot of time working with these children, and that is evident in their performance. Their energy throughout the show is excellent, and their acting, singing, and dancing is impressive. Mabel Utley as Brigitta Von Trapp stood out in particular, and she earned many giggles from the audience throughout the night with her snarky and witty lines which she delivered very well. Also worth noting is Kimberly Allred as Liesl Von Trapp, who has a lovely voice and a powerful talent for acting, particularly during her scenes with Patrick Hawkins as Rolf Gruber. As the script (by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse) progressed, Allred expertly develops her character from a shy, sweet girl into a young woman who is forced to grow into an adult as she experiences difficult trials and learns very hard lessons.
The brightest star of the night and the strongest performer in the cast is Morgan Hekking as Baroness Elsa Schrader. Hekking has a huge stage presence and remains completely engaged during every moment in every scene, even when she is not speaking or singing. When she is singing, she has a beautifully rich, clear, and powerful voice. Anytime Hekking is on stage, it is hard to watch anyone else but her. Her facial expressions, acting choices, and vocals are extremely captivating and entertaining.
Another memorable performer was Kacee Mickelsen as Mother Abbess. Mickelsen’s voice is beautiful and powerful. She is obviously a very well-trained singer, and she nailed the difficult vocals in “Climb Every Mountain.” Unfortunately, moments of this song were—again—lost due to microphone issues. With Mickelsen’s power and projection, though, I was still able to hear her, but the song would have been much more powerful with a microphone that was working correctly. The microphone cutting in and out multiple times during the final note of “Climb Every Mountain” was distracting and lessened the power of the song.
Overall, despite some technical issues, this production of The Sound of Music is excellent and well worth seeing. Many of the members of this cast create professional-level performers with their impressive vocal and acting abilities. The show is appropriate for audiences of all ages, but the run time is long (approximately 3 hours, plus an intermission), so it may not be suitable for younger children who would have a hard time sitting still for long periods of time.