By William Ferrall, Contributing Writer
What makes “The Sound of Music” endure as an exemplar of musical theater unfolds with conviction in its current production at Theatre Workshop of Nantucket.
The solemn opening preludium flows from the nuns’ chorus of crystal- clear voices, then is leavened by Maria’s rendition of the familiar theme song. An animated “Maria” follows, setting the stage for her conflict and leading us to the von Trapp household. By play’s end, we’re emotionally all in for the Trapps to survive the sturm und drang of the German army advancing to their doorstep, with startling onstage reminders of Nazi armbands and banners.
This irresistible story of perseverance and courage, told with few diversions, and underscored by unforgettable melodies and lyrics, continues to find fans.TWN delivers superbly for its audiences, with some of the finest singing voices ever heard on Nantucket stages by a mixed professional and volunteer company.We’re reminded how satisfying it can be to hear live voices to captivate and touch us.
For those who’ve forgotten or might not know, the origins of “The Sound of Music” started decades before its Broadway debut 58 years ago. Originally conceived as a straight play, writers Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse changed many details of the actual Trapp family story for dramatic effect. Producers brought on board the accomplished musical-theater team of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein ll to add original songs, which evolved into a complete, new musical.
Hammerstein died in 1960, but Rodgers added the songs 'I Have Confidence' and 'Something Good' for the 1965 movie version. Sometimes omitted from staged versions of “The Sound of Music,” both are heard in the Nantucket production, along with heart-warmers “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,”“Edelweiss,” “Do-Re-Mi,” and more.
“The Sound of Music” continues to be a paragon of musical theater. Critics first disparaged the new musical, with New York Times reviewer Brooks Atkinson calling it “hackneyed” and an example of “. . . the American stage succumbing to the clichés of operetta.”
Forget the naysayers then and now.
TWN director Justin Cerne and his cast, especially those in leading roles, add nuances that distinguish this “Sound of Music” from misguided or run-of-the-mill versions.
With a technically superb and buoyant soprano voice, Mollie Vogt-Welch creates an ardent Maria Rainer. She’s devout yet sensual enough that the shared passion between her and Captain von Trapp feels entirely believable. James Benjamin Rodgers, an authoritative tenor, makes the Captain an upright and virtuous patriot, without an overdose of stoicism.
We welcome The Mother Abbess as more benevolent than some have played her, in the powerful, fluid singing of Cynthia Csabay. In Sarah Fraunfelder, Elsa Schrader is a confident businesswoman with a purpose as the would-be new wife of Captain von Trapp. As played by John Saunders, family friend and promoter Max Detweiler is a genial “uncle” to the clan.
The seven von Trapp children delight as an ensemble and in each of their moments alone in the spotlight. Tessa Whelden as Liesl von Trapp, the older of the clan, who’s “16 going on 17,” seems just right as a girl on the edge of womanhood. She’s visibly disappointed in young love by her paramour Rolf Gruber, played by Pat Moran, who reveals his dark side late in the play. John Vento as Freidrich, Phaedra Plank as Louisa, Avery Moore as Kurt, Aille Sweeney as Brigitta and Anna Houghton as Marta each shine. The tiny Roan LaScola as Gretl proves to be the scene-stealer.
You’d be hard-pressed to find more able house staff than Jack Bulger as Franz and Jenny Gifford as Frau Schmidt. Athalyn Sweeney, Jacqueline McGrath, Terrence Ruggiero, Nancy Tobias, Francie Basket, Scott Corry, Caleb Beidelman and Polly Miller round out this capable cast in supporting roles.
Music director and conductor Jillian Zack has assembled an orchestra that plays so seamlessly, with such great clarity, that the soundtrack almost seems recorded. But behind the set, invisible to the audience, are the six excellent musicians Cynthia Meng, Dylan Younger, Laura Hamel, Ashley Curran, Meredith Lustig and Madison Stratton.
Nicole Sartor is assistant director. Peter Waldron as scenic designer and Stephen Petrilli as lighting designer created a simple backdrop, although we wish the mansion setting had more hints of grandeur. Jimm Halliday has put together the apt and visually striking costumes.
Like many great creative works, 'The Sound of Music' proves to be as relevant now as ever. With authoritarian impulses seemingly all around us, few things soothe our worries as much as music.