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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Sound of Music
The very definition of a feel-good property, the saga of the Trapp family singers boasts a heroine who is sweetness incarnate, a righteous hero who stands up against the Nazis, a group of terminally cute singing children and a score of songs that everyone, everyone, EVERYONE knows. But in taking on this 50th anniversary tour that launched at the Ahmanson Theatre, director Jack O'Brien clearly understands that the material could still use a certain oomph. Savvy Broadway vet that he is, O'Brien figures that a jolt of youth might do the trick. He's correct. Whenever his young Maria, Kerstin Anderson unleashes her songs, O'Brien largely lovely production takes wing.
Even by casting Maria young and with a teenage couple figuring into the plot, The Sound of Music is not likely to give Spring Awakening a run for its hormonal money. This may indeed be a musical that pivots on major transitions (physical, spiritual and political), but in O'Brien's production, the warm glow of goodness and light easily washes out any danger.
Anderson's can-do governess systematically charms the stockings off first the women of her order, then the Von Trapp family and ultimately the Captain himself. Fresh-faced with a pixie-ish pageboy bob, Anderson's Maria moves to the song in her heart rather than to any convictions over right vs. wrong. While the other nuns are at their spiritual duties, we discover Maria pouring out her heart in pure joy to the strains of, yes, "The Sound of Music." The mountain backdrop glows with a lilac haze (scenic designer Douglas W. Schmidt could recycle those mountains for Brigadoon) and every locale seems to glow just a little brighter when Maria's around.
Davis's Von Trapp is not a brooder; there is little threat of danger in his silences. The discovery of his love for Maria, for the music that she can bring back into his family's life, is largely organic. Anderson and Davis share a lovely dance at the ball for Frau Schrader (Teri Hansen). Hansen and Merwin Foard help move the plot forward as the Captain's erstwhile love interest and his self-adoring friend Max Detweiler. Uncle Max, who puts the Von Trapp's on stage, may be a toadying coward, but by God, he's charming.
Given our heroine's youth, Maria is supposed to have a stronger perspective of the blossoming of Liesl Von Trapp who is tempted by the postal carrier and future Nazi, Rolf Gruber (Dan Tracy). Indeed, the fact that Andersen and Paige Silvester's Liesl are so close in age gives the two actresses some thematic (and Freudian) intrigue to play around with. "Darling sixteen going on seventeen, wait a year or two," counsels the lady who went from nun to wife and stepmother of seven in the space of a few quick months.
Anderson's is not the only youthful spirit. One-time stage Mary Poppins Ashley Brown is one of the youngest actors to play the Mother Abbess in a professional production. Not surprisingly, Brown blows the roof off "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" and should herself get a shot at enacting Maria one day.
What little darkness the production contains arrives late. When the Von Trapp children are all dolled up singing of "jam and bread, tea and jam, tea and bread" at the Kaltzberg Concert Hall, they are warbling in front of giant red swastika draped banners. When Ben Davis leads the family on "Edelweiss" (the only time we hear the song), the song is as beautiful as it is subversive.
This being The Sound of Music, sunniness and hope must ultimately trump subversion. With Anderson and those adorable kids leading the way, when our Maria climbs ev'ry mountain, we're right there with every step. Again.