Let's start at the very beginning: An outstanding production of The Sound of Music is in Worcester this week and families should not miss their chance to see it.
The national tour opened its Massachusetts run at The Hanover Theatre last night, led by 22-year-old Vermont native Kerstin Anderson in her first professional role. (How she landed the role is a story in itself, click here to read our interview with her from this month's magazine.)
While Maria may have been a problem for the nuns of Nonnberg Abbey, Anderson is a dream as the failed postulant-turned-governess who loves to sing. Fresh-faced with a soaring, clear soprano, Anderson plays Maria quite differently from the 1965 movie version, infusing the character with barely restrained, irrepressible joy that overcomes any shyness, insecurity, or subservience. Anderson's youth is an asset in this approach, and while it's a distinct departure from the Maria many know, it's lovely and it works.
For fans of the movie, the stage production will also look like a divergence from the familiar. Two favorite songs are in different scenes, at least one key character is quite different, and subtle plot differences will make you think, "This isn't how it was in the movie." But, remember, the 1959 musical -- the last of Rodgers & Hammerstein's illustrious partnership -- came years before the blockbuster movie, which made a series of changes to the original production when adapting it for the screen. The political subplot of the 1938 annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany has a bigger role in the stage production, with one of two songs cut from the movie ("No Way To Stop It") all about the impending event, as well as a key turning point.
Directed by multiple Tony winner Jack O'Brien, the show returns to its stage roots with a fresh take. Notable in this is Melody Betts as Mother Abbess, who delivers a more accessible, comedic, and warm head of the abbey. It's a far cry from the regal, distant Mother Abbesses we've seen before, yet Betts is in full command and authority by the time she belts "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," which brought down the Act 1 curtain -- and the house.
Broadway veteran Ben Davis portrays Captain von Trapp as obviously hurting, but far less angry and stern than the iconic movie performance, which makes his transformation from someone who blew a whistle to call his children to a guitar-playing family man easier to see. Davis and Anderson have lovely chemistry together, and Davis is a terrific baritone, leaving you wishing he got a chance to sing more.
As Baroness Schraeder and Max Detweiler, von Trapp's almost wife and mooching friend, Teri Hansen and Merwin Foard are fine foils to the patriotic Austrian Navy captain, and get the two stage songs cut from the movie restored for them: "How Can Love Survive?" and "No Way To Stop It." While von Trapp is played a touch softer around his children in the beginning of the show, his rage is still blasted at anyone sympathetic to Germany throughout. His convictions are never in doubt, and his disgust at singing in front of a curtain of Nazi flags on the concert hall stage at the end of the show is palpable.
The von Trapp children were well represented, especially Paige Silvester as Liesl. While there were seven children on stage, there were many more in the audience, underscoring the appeal of the show as a great take for families. The movie version is broadcast on network TV once a year, always the weekend before Christmas. The timing is not an accident as this was one of the original family musicals, so what better time for New England families to catch it live than the most family time of the year, this week through Jan. 1.
While the stage show is 57 years old, the themes -- family and love triumphing over hate -- are as timely as ever.
The Sound of Music, Hanover Theatre, Worcester. Shows Thursday, Dec. 29, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Dec. 30, 8 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 31, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Jan. 1, 1 p.m. Tickets $39 and up. 877.571.SHOW or thehanovertheatre.org.