When I was in middle school, I was in a production of the Sound of Music. I played the third von Trapp child/second daughter – Louisa. It’s not a particularly exciting role. But being part of that unit of “the von Trapp children” was very exciting. Probably the biggest part of the that production for me was disabusing me of the notion that a stage production of a musical that has been made famous on screen needs to be reminiscent of that movie version. And yeah – we were a middle school production. It was nothing fancy, so no one went in thinking it would feel like you were really in Austria in the late 30s.
If you walked in to the touring show of The Sound of Music at the Kennedy Center, you would be impressed by the costumes, and by the lovely painted backdrops of the Alps that felt like a vintage picture-postcard. But as soon as any of the cast members opened their mouths to talk (and in the case of Maria – sing), you would feel a strange sense of disassociation. Because while we’re not going to get Austrian accents from anyone in this production, what they sounded like was not just Americans, but SUPER-AMERICAN. The way I described Maria to a friend was that she had a “Gee golly whiz!” 40s way of speaking and reacting that just felt strange in this role.
Yes, the role requires a certain amount of wonder with the world, and with music, and the ability to have an affect on the lives of the children. But when your lead is leaning over a desk and huffing her lines in a way that feels more like it belongs on a Disney Channel sitcom than in the character of Maria from the Sound of Music…there’s a problem. This sort of “too American-ness” extended to Captain von Trapp as well – he was more brash and “manly man” than the sort of reserved quiet strength that one expects from the Captain. It also didn’t help that the two leads didn’t have a lot of romantic chemistry, and the romance that did “exist” seemed to happen all at once leaving me going, “Uh…really? Just like that?”
The rest of the show is great. The actress playing Liesl is lovely and sweet, and has that wide-eyed innocence mixed with teenage rebelliousness that the role requires. The Reverend Mother is excellent and has a wonderful, powerful voice – if perhaps played a little too much for laughs at times. The von Trapp children are terrific, and interact in a way that feels realistically like they are siblings trying to make the best of a new situation with their father.
I’m not saying don’t go. It’s an enjoyable night at the theater, and well worth your time. I’m just saying that having been spoiled by the ideal that is Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer will perhaps make something feel off to you the way it did for me.
Side note: I attended the production the other night that happened to also be attended by Vice President Mike Pence. I have a feeling that he did not get some of the themes of the show (such as believing in yourself and following your heart, the importance of family be they blood or close friends, and that there is no one right way to follow God), and a touring company which includes a large number of children is not likely to be the kind of place where actors are going to feel comfortable saying something and speaking their truth. But it made me watch the show in a slightly different way. During the reprise of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” Maria sings a line to Liesl saying, “Lo and behold you’re someone’s wife, and you belong to him”, and it made me feel queasy because no – women do not belong to their husbands. But I could just imagine the VP thinking this was an appropriate attitude even in the 21st century. Blergh.
So – thoughts? Anyone else seen this production? Or seen a production of a musical that felt off in some way? What distracts you from a performance when it also has a movie or bigger pop culture version looming over it? Note – the preview below is from 2016, and some of the actors have been switched out.