SIGHTS BETTER THAN ‘SOUND’
> CLASSIC MUSICAL COMMENDABLE EFFORT DESPITE SMALL VENUE
Special to The Commercial Appeal
No scene from a movie musical has appeared in more dreams than the one where Julie Andrews runs across a verdant green hilltop amid soaring snowcapped mountains, singing, “The hills are alive with the sound of music, with songs they have sung for a thousand years!”
Her outstretched arms are like solar panels, absorbing the glory of the world. Her voice trumpets the joy of life almost to the point of absurdity.
But it’s that same moment that defines “The Sound of Music,” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s timeless tale of a nun who turns nanny. That sense of aliveness is the heart and soul of any staging of the musical.
There is certainly great pressure on the young and talented actress Emily Chateau to claim, as her own, this infectious vitality in Theatre Memphis’ new production, which started the 2009-10 season last weekend with a nearly sold-out performance.
She is charming and energetic in the role of Maria throughout the show, but starting from when Chateau rushes forward with those beloved lyrics, singing in a cautious, childlike vibrato and not in the confidant, go-for-broke belt, one begins to notice similar shortfalls of direction in the production by guest director Christina J. Moore.
Some quibbles may be a matter of taste: but for me, when Maria looks and sounds as if she could be the same age as the children she’s governing, it makes the inevitable marriage between her and the old widowed Captain von Trapp, played by the endearing Barclay Roberts, seem extremely unromantic.
Elsewhere, nuns sound robotic in their line readings. Not a word sung by Christina Wellford Scott, playing von Trapp’s love interest, could be understood, perhaps due to technical problems. And then there is the repetitiveness of the musical itself; six songs have reprises.
What Theater Memphis does provide in spades is memorable stage pictures. The mountains of Austria literally rise over the von Trapp manse thanks to Christopher McCollum’s clever set design. The seven von Trapp children are all super cute (with the supercutest of them all being third-grader Paige Robbins Hollenbeck as Gretl, the youngest).
Gary Beard’s versatile music direction brings out the garish, fun side of “Do -Re -Me,” the religious fervor of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” and the deceptive innocence of “Edelweiss.”
Though it doesn’t quite reach its peak potential, this “Sound of Music” is nonetheless a major community theater effort climbing ev’ry audience member’s mountain of memories, reminding us that the 1959 Broadway hit is still as green as that pasture in our dreams.
Performing as The von Trapp Family Singers in “The Sound of Music” at Theatre Memphis, the children are Paige Robbins Hollenbeck, Catherine Boggan, Charlotte Nichols, Sam Shankman, Mikayla House, Lauren Dunavant and Henry Widdop.