It can be hard to see a production of a work as timeless as The Sound of Music (or really anything involving the unparalleled Julie Andrews) and not compare it to what has come before. Many times, the reimagining of something so beloved can come up short. But the new national tour of this treasured musical features a stellar, energetic cast that brings the story of the von Trapp family to life with reverence and care.
From the first clear, pure notes sung by the Mother Abbess (a radiant Ashley Brown), Broadway magic takes over and transports the audience to the Swiss Alps and picturesque Salzburg, Austria, where the spirited nun Maria, played by charming young up-and-comer Kerstin Anderson, struggles to find her place in life and follow her heart as it leads her down an unexpected path toward the von Trapp children and the stern yet passionate Captain Georg von Trapp (Ben Davis).
Fans of the movie will note a few key differences in the musical production, deftly directed by Jack O’Brien (pulling double duty alongside his direction of The Dallas Opera’s phenomenal new work, Great Scott), such as “My Favorite Things” being sung by Maria and the Mother Abbess instead of by Maria and the von Trapp children. But the high caliber of assembled performances makes it hard to do more than sit back and enjoy the classic music.
The one criticism I can find is that the first act moves much too swiftly, cutting out Captain von Trapp singing “Edelweiss” for the first time. Not only does that rob us of a tender moment where he and Maria begin falling in love, making their realization seem a bit too sudden, but it also takes away from a bit of the emotional punch when von Trapp sings it later in the show, mourning the loss of his beloved country to Nazi control. Davis’ voice is full and rich—he needs more opportunities to sing in the show, not less.
Brown and Anderson are both equally wonderful, each bringing genuine joy to their roles alongside some serious vocal chops. Brown’s voice is delicate but powerful, soaring into the very rafters of the Music Hall—especially her note-perfect rendition of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” Anderson’s Maria is full of sunshine and laughter, with a bright, bell-like soprano that lilts and glides on the stage as much as she does. Her youth is used to every advantage in this role, making her gentle mischief and light-heartedness seem all the more believable.
The actors and actresses portraying the von Trapp children are all quite talented, playing their roles with all the poise of stage veterans. The chemistry between them and Anderson feels immediately natural, warm, and comforting, like a real family. The children are a playful, cohesive unit in all the musical numbers, especially “The Lonely Goatherd,” and seemed to delight the assembled audience on press night. Paige Silvester is a stand-out as Liesl, the eldest von Trapp daughter who is stuck in the void between childhood and adulthood.
That natural warmth ignites into a flame between Anderson and Davis in their scenes together. Their slow burn romance, though a bit rushed, feels inevitable thanks to the solid connection they have on stage, the gruff exterior of Davis’ von Trapp slowly, sweetly eroding away in the face of Maria’s bright outlook and stubborn determination. By the time von Trapp takes her in his arms for their first kiss, even life-long fans of the show are still holding their breath.
The sets are beautifully rendered but really quite simple, without the more modern bells and whistles that have become so popular with current productions. Scene transitions are smooth and seamless, never taking away from the action on stage and at times adding some visual punch, like when the glaring swastika banners are ripped down from the stage as the scene changes to the abbey gardens. The period-accurate costumes are quite lovely, especially the evening wear in the party scene at the von Trapp family home and Maria’s simple, sweeping wedding gown. Combined, the scenery and costuming add just the right finishing touch.
The Sound of Music is a promising beginning to the Dallas Summer Musicals’ 2015-2016 season. As with last season’s Pippin, it’s refreshing to have a higher level of quality in the productions coming to Dallas, and this is a must-see, classic family favorite that is sure to please fans old and new.