Thousand Islands Playhouse presents 'THE SOUND OF MUSIC'
Now onstage at The Springer Theatre
A Rote and Paint-by-Numbers staging of the classic. This 'Sound of Music's' rushed pacing and dialogue challenge the production
The setting is Salzburg pre-World War 2, the historical backdrop of the Nazi rise to power in Austria. We are almost all familiar with The Sound of Music’s story. Maria Rainer (Ellen Denny), a postulant nun stands out from the other sisters at Nonnberg Abbey due to her daydreaming, tree-climbing, and torn dress. She even waltzes on her way to mass and whistles on the stairs. Mother Abbess (June Crowley) sends Maria to work as a governess for widower Georg von Trapp (Eric Craig) and his seven children.
Maria wants to reunite Captain von Trapp with his children who yearn for their father's attention but struggle to connect with him emotionally. She captures the children’s hearts while connecting with them through the power of music. Captain von Trapp is pursuing a relationship with Baroness Elsa Schraeder (Alison J Palmer) whose close friend, the children’s uncle, entertainment impresario Max Detweiler, (Rob Torr) is captivated by the children's singing talent under Maria’s tutelage and is intent on featuring the Von Trapp Family Singers in a prestigious music festival. Meanwhile, Captain von Trapp may be developing feelings for Maria.
The visual presentation of the tale is lovely. Brandon Kleiman’s striking set design features eight columns with two accompanying staircases on stages left and right, leading to a central playing area with three descending steps. The proscenium center stage is especially noteworthy, serving as both a window in the von Trapp house and a stained-glass window at Nonnberg Abbey in various scenes throughout the show. A program note states the inspiration for the set design came from the Springer Theatre, which served as the Canoe Club during 1938 and both world wars. This is a clever and thoughtful touch. Andre du Toit’s lighting nicely complements Kleiman's set, particularly during the scenes at the Abbey in the beginning and towards the end when the von Trapps are in hiding following their concert.
Joshua Quinlan, the Costume Designer, is responsible for replicating the clothing style of pre-World War 2 as accurately as possible. He has done an excellent job, especially in creating the children's play clothes (famously crafted from Maria's bedroom drapes) and concert attire. Maria's wedding dress is also appropriately simple and elegant.
Mike Doherty’s sound design provided good clarity in the first act. I could hear the dialogue and lyrics perfectly, which has been challenging with some musicals I’ve reviewed over the years. Unfortunately, there were some technical issues with actors’ mics near the end of Act 2 but, overall, the sound in the Springer for this production seems significantly improved.
Performance-wise onstage, I was less enthusiastic. At this opening-weekend matinee, I was taken aback by how the show galloped headlong at a frantically rushed pace which compromised the emotional core of the piece. For instance, when the children sing for Elsa Schraeder, I watched Captain von Trapp's reaction to hearing music in his home for the first time since his wife's passing. Eric Craig didn't fully let that moment sink in or resonate. The actors in the scene spoke their text with quick precision, but as an audience member, I expected some emotional depth that wasn’t there. I wanted to feel the widower’s grief and regret.
Unfortunately, no emotion came through for me. This was essentially true for a good part of the show; dialogue and song lyrics whizzed by, perfectly memorized but delivering little heart.
It's true that ‘The Sound of Music’ is a long show (this performance lasts two and a half hours with one interval), so keeping track of time is a reasonable concern. Nevertheless, Director, Naomi Costain, is responsible for ensuring that the storytelling resonates with the audience regardless of timing. With largely presentational staging, mostly blocked downstage-centre, and all very hurried, Costain steers this production emotionally far from the sweet sentimentality of the beloved story we know from the film. The challenge for the actors telling this story should be to convey credible, sometimes poignant emotions that resonate with the audience.
Unfortunately, it looked like Costain hadn’t given clear, connected human motive for movement or songs, from one point to another, other than serving to move people around on a stage. As a result, there’s a “we go here now because we’re told” feel to the proceedings that makes it somewhat like watching a paint-by-number being completed… sure, it’s kind of pretty, but is that all? As an audience member, like most familiar with the classic story, I hoped to witness the characters we know come to life. They’re not there yet.
Only when Rob Torr’s terrific Uncle Max brings his flourish of bravado and depth of pathos to the stage is this production somewhat elevated.
Six of the seven children have been double-cast. However, no program notation informs us who we see for any given performance. Neither are young actors given bios, which is odd since the kids are (let’s be honest) one of the reasons we want to see the show. The children acquit themselves well is all I can offer without knowing more about whom I saw onstage. I would like to suggest that a program insert or an announcement listing the names of the children performing at any given show would be well deserved.
Running time: approximately two and a half hours with one intermission.
‘The Sound of Music’ runs until August 67 at The Springer Theatre, 185 South Street, Gananoque. For tickets call 613-382-7020 or visit www.1000islandsplayhouse.com.
THOUSAND ISLANDS PLAYHOUSE presents THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Book by Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse; Music by Richard Rodgers and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein
Director and Choreographer: Naomi Costain
Music Director: Anthony Bastianon
Set Designer: Brandon Kleiman
Costume Designer: Joshua Quinlan
Lighting Designer: Andre du Toit
Sound Designer: Mike Doherty
Performers: Ellen Denny, Eric Craig, June Crowley, Rob Torr, Alison J. Palmer, Mary Kelly, Sarah Strange, Annie Ramos, David Talbot, Marcia Tratt, Hadley Mustakas, Robbie Fenton, Curtis Sullivan, Douglas Hughes, Gareth Davies, Brittany Miranda, Jamie Murray,
The Children: Micah Garvin/Matthew Fournier; Amara Nanji/Charlotte Stroud; Scarlett Belanger/Isla Oatway; Reid Nicholson/Malcolm Jager; Emilie Lord/Bria Dubey; Yvette Lord/ Brea Oatway