The last time I saw a parade of swastikas, they were plastered on arms of neo-nazi right-wingers marching in downtown Charlottesville, VA several months ago. It wasn’t a feel-good moment then, and seeing them so boldly displayed in Rogers & Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, still sends chills throughout my body. Luckily they’re only visible in Act II, towards the end of the production.
If you’re over the age of 30, you likely know the story of the von Trapp family who escaped Austria as Nazi Germany positioned a take over in 1938. The family of singing siblings is currently on a short stay at Belk Theater, and with fresh singing and high-spirited children, manages to mask the true premise of the story. Director Matt Lentz stays true to the Broadway musical but seemed to take it down a notch. This version is a nice and simple production that focuses on the love of family, togetherness, and survival.
It starts with the nuns of Nonnberg Abbey then transitions to Maria (Jill-Christine Wiley) daydreaming on the mountainside, singing the title song. Wiley plays a magnificent Postulant torn between living life inside or outside the Abbey. Her faith is important to her, but so are the hills she knows and adores. Lauren Kidwell as Mother Abbess is lovely. She’s ___ and powerful as a Mother should be. She’s patient and understanding and shows quite a bit of compassion. The Sisters of Abbey, much like Mother Abbess, aren’t your typical faith-filled maidens. They’re well aware that there are struggles that come with their lifestyle as they assist Maria on her journey.
Mike McLean plays father and naval officer Georg von Trapp. His stern and commanding presence contends with his staff’s need for respect, Maria’s gentleness and the seven von Trapp children’s longing for not only, attention, but intention. There are many bruises that are slow to heal here. Keslie Ward, is Liesl, the oldest daughter. She has the face of an adolescent, the voice of a seasoned adult, and the poise of a professional. Being 16 going on 17, Liesl seems just as conflicted as Maria but will soon realize she has no control over her fate.
During the uncertain moments, melodies are what gets the family through. They stitch notes together effortlessly, and seem to ignore the internal and external combat surrounding them. Will father marry the baroness? Will we have a new mother? How can we find happiness in such a militaristic mansion? What will happen to our governess? Our country? Trouble is sprinkled in during Act 1, but slams the von Trapp’s head-on during Act II. The swastikas give me a jolt, of course, and quickly puts things in perspective. First, a small patch on the arm of a soldier then oversized ribbons cascade behind the family as they sing and make plans for their risky departure.
Life would be easier if we could all sing our way through deep waters. If “So Long, Farewell” would end all differences, big and small, our time on God’s earth would be such a sweet song.
For more information visit www.blumenthalarts.org.
Image courtesy of Matthew Murphy