Stratford’s Festival Theatre is certainly alive, but not only with the sound of music. Sniffles and laughter are among the sounds that emerge from the theatre, as this rock star of a musical continually touches the audience.
Performing in The Sound of Music automatically pits today’s actors against some of the impeccable Broadway and Hollywood talents of the past. Director and choreographer Donna Feore takes a traditional approach with this production – a challenge in itself, because if this Stratford rendition doesn’t have a modern spin, then it better be just as good, or possibly even better than its predecessors.
The cast at Stratford undoubtedly has big shoes to fill, but even the tiniest feet on stage rise to the challenge and this powerhouse cast delivers the musical with vigorous force, strong vocals and spot-on choreography.
If you don’t know the plotline of The Sound of Music, I’ll assume you’ve been living in an abbey yourself.
The charismatic, musical nun Maria’s lack of self-discipline gets her sent out of the abbey for a few months and Mother Abbess finds her a new job: to be a governess to the seven children of Captain von Trapp, a widowed navy officer. Maria’s oozing charm allows her to win over the hearts of the children and, to her surprise, even the captain himself. As a bonus to Maria’s optimistic, bubbly effervescence, she has brains as well. As the Nazis invade Austria, Maria works with her new family and her old friends at the abbey, and concocts a successful plan to escape to Switzerland.
Stephanie Rothenberg shines as Maria, as she portrays an always genuine and positively glowing governess that you can’t help but fall in love with right alongside the other characters.
Ben Carlson is a convincing Captain von Trapp who wins the sob award, getting the first sniffles out of the audience as he rediscovers both music and his children for the first time after his wife’s death.
All of the other actors follow suit with notable performances by Anita Krause as the stern and soothing Mother Abbess, and Shane Carty as the hilariously lovable and freeloading Max.
Then there’s Liesl. Alexandra Herzog’s portrayal, along with Feore’s direction, somehow does not fully fit in with this traditional rendition, because, quite frankly, this Liesl is far too sexy and strong-willed than we imagine her character to be. Normally, I eat these kinds of characters up. I’m all for strong female roles, but to me, Liesl will always be a 21-year-old, doe-eyed Charmian Carr. Herzog’s Liesl knows what she wants. And can we just chew on the fact that she stands in front of a gun to save her family? She may be too badass for this Stratford rendition, and it's surprising, but I don’t entirely hate it…
The set design is both elegant and versatile, adapting seamlessly to the various locations of the musical. A balcony with staircases descending on both sides opens up to the abbey, the von Trapp foyer, Maria’s bedroom, and everything in between with simple touches. The musical transitions and choreography help make the set changes so utterly charming, with dancing (or drunk) staff members of the von Trapp home changing up the set pieces throughout.
All in all, this musical will have you singing along throughout—and the whole way home. And for me, that’s quite a long drive. So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodnight…
The Sound of Music (by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse) plays at Stratford’s Festival Theatre until Oct. 18. For more information visit http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/.