The Sound of Music is a lot like the infamous Borg in Star Trek: whether you like it or not, resistance is futile. Usually, I’m pretty well gone by the time the von Trapp children first enter. But, San Diego Musical Theatre’s production had me from the title number and held me enthralled through the last note.
That’s because Allison Spratt Pearce, the Old Globe/USD MFA graduate who plays Maria, enchanted with her clear-as-a-bell soprano, her precise but not prissy diction (credit the excellent work of Musical Director Don Le Master), and a persona that inspires love at first sight. With Ms. Pearce you never wonder why all of the von Trapps, children and father, are immediately smitten with the aspiring nun who’s sent to care for unruly youngsters.
As must be, to make the story work. Rogers and Hammerstein’s final musical borrowed much from the duo’s previous pieces, including South Pacific’s spunky heroine (Mary Martin in both cases) who meets and falls for a widower; The King and I’s parade of children who need a loving and clever governess; and Carousel’s everywoman (typically played by an operatic contralto) who gets to sing the big inspirational number (“You’ll Never Walk Alone,” in Carousel, “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” in The Sound of Music – and, ok, here she’s a mezzo). To call The Sound of Music derivative would be too harsh – and wrong – but it does rely a good deal on past successes.
Familiarity of the music also contributes to success. From the title tune to hits such as “My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi,” and “Edelweiss” there is enough it’s-burned-into-my-brain music to inspire a sing-along (but don’t – instead enjoy the lush sound made by the 35-member cast and a 23-piece orchestra).
Director Todd Nielsen (who also helmed SDMT’s White Christmas), makes managing a big cast look easy. He’s helped enormously by intelligent performances from the supporting players. Randall Dodge, as Captain Georg von Trapp, doesn’t have as much to do as he did in the recent Welk productions of South Pacific and Chicago, but he handles the demands of the role with aplomb and sings well above the standard set by other Captains. Victoria Strong, as the Mother Abbess, dispenses gentle life lessons and soars both times she sings “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” The quality of the singing and the acting of the von Trapp children (Kelly Prendergast as Liesl, Jonas McMullen as Friedrich, Annie Buckley as Louisa, Luke Babbitt as Kurt – pronounced properly, thank you very much, Katelyn Katz as Brigitta, Hourie Klijian as Marta, and Gabriella Dimmick as Gretl) is a tribute to the very fine work that is done all around San Diego in developing the abilities of youth who are interested in acting and singing.
Jill Van Velzer and David McBean deserve special praise, as their characters, Baroness Elsa Schraeder and Max Detweiler, are difficult ones to play. The Baroness is often performed as haughty and condescending, while Max can be a schemer or over-the-top flamboyant. Ms. Van Velzer’s Baroness is an urbanite out of place in the small town where the von Trapps live. She’s very fond of Captain von Trapp, but she sees right away that he’s fallen for Maria. Mr. McBean’s Max is urbane, sophisticated, and utterly pragmatic. He’s also early to realize that he’s gotten himself in over his head with the Nazis, who are coming to power in Austria. Both Ms. Van Velzer and Mr. McBean sing quite well, though their two songs, “How Can Love Survive?” and “No Way to Stop It,” while important to advancing the plot, nevertheless slow down a long show (90 minutes for Act 1, another 70 minutes for Act 2).[php snippet=1]
Speaking of long shows, while The Sound of Music is a wonderful choice for a child’s first musical, it’s not a great idea to bring a child you’re pretty sure will become distracted. The mother sitting across from me on opening night didn’t get to see much of the performance, as she escorted her daughter in and out of the auditorium many times before finally giving up and leaving.
That said, SDMT’s The Sound of Music is utterly first-rate, as good a production of this show as you’re likely to see. There’s only two weekends left and every single seat deserves to be sold.
Performs Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 2 and 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm, through May 26. Tickets range between $26 and $56 and may be purchased by visiting the theatre’s website (see below). Discounts are available for seniors and children ages 16 and younger.