Never doubt Oscar Hammerstein. He’ll never let you down. Whether he was writing lyrics for music by Sigmund Romberg, Jerome Kern or, in his most famous collaborations, Richard Rodgers, Hammerstein was a true believer in and tireless advocate for the power of love. And not in some cutesy way, but in a profound, transcendent way.
There’s a famous film version of this musical you may have heard of; it has its virtues, but it also clouds Hammerstein’s vision. The stage version of The Sound of Music, the latest national touring company version of which is currently in residence at Proctors, is crystal clear. And this touring company boasts a full complement of wonderful singers to bring this vision to life.
The setting is Austria, just pre-World War 2. The heroine is a young postulate at a convent, Maria (Charlotte Maltby), who is clearly ill-suited to the life of a nun: She can’t stop singing. So the Mother Abbess (Melody Betts) sends her off to be the governess for Naval hero (and widower) Captain von Trapp’s seven children–and to ponder what is her true calling.
Captain von Trapp (Nicholas Rodriguez) is a martinet. He has a fiancee, a wealthy Baroness (Teri Hansen) with a distinctly mercenary quality when it comes to both love and politics, and a theatrical impresario friend, Max (Darren Matthias, who filled in on opening night and earned big laughs), who just wants to get along with everyone. The kids are cute, if reluctant to be won over. Rodriguez is appropriately aristocratic as Georg von Trapp, and has a fine voice–which comes in handy, as the stage Captain has a lot more singing to do than in the film. The kids are all terrific. (And if the kids aren’t terrific, The Sound of Music doesn’t work.)
Maltby is a delightful Maria. To Maria, music and love are the same thing, an expression of life’s joy. (She’s Hammerstein’s ethos embodied.) It’s this joy that sparks the revitalization of the entire von Trapp household; Maltby embodies this part of the Maria fully, but she also adds a quality of immaturity that humanizes the character. She carries the show with a pleasing combination of innocence and conviction. (And sings the heck out of the part.)
All your fave songs are here (plus a couple more), but not necessarily where you’ll remember them from the film: “My Favorite Things,” “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” “The Lonely Goatherd,” “So Long, Farewell” and so on. The Mother Abbess and Max and the Baroness all get to sing, too; in fact when Betts, as head nun, introduces “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” it’s a genuine showstopper.
The staging is deft and unobtrusive; the sets are evocative, from the stained-glass window of the convent to the painted (projected) mountain backdrops, to the elegant suggestion of the von Trapp mansion’s grandeur with its high windows, staircase and chandelier. One of the most effective–and shocking–bits of stagecraft is delightfully simple, just five stark banners that span the width and height of the entire stage, forming a counterpoint for Rodriguez to sing “Edelweiss.”
Hammerstein’s faith in love is affirmed right down to the final escape from the Nazis. In the film, the scene is used as pretext for a gag with the nuns; here, as originally intended, it’s tinged with heartbreak. Just as it should be.
The Sound of Music, music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, directed by Jack O’Brien, with Charlotte Maltby and Nicholas Rodriguez, Proctors, through April 9