Sixty-three years ago, The Sound of Music debuted on Broadway, delighting audiences with a heartwarming story and musical numbers that have become go-to standards. It’s considered a Golden-Age musical for a reason; the plot line by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse (inspired by Maria Augusta Trapp), and the music and lyrics by Rodgers and Hammerstein are first-tier, evoking smiles but also reminding how crucial faith and conviction can be against the backdrop of one of humanity’s darkest epochs: World War II.
The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and McCoy Rigby Entertainment have teamed up to deliver a one-of-a-kind rendition of The Sound of Music to modern audiences, which can be experienced through Sunday, May 15th. It is one of the most professionally well-done productions one will ever see, featuring elite talent represented by all age groups, spot-on casting by Julia Flores, perfect period costumes by Deborah Roberts, an effortlessly entrancing musical direction by Dennis Castellano, high-spirited choreography by Arthur L. Ross, a fantastic directorial effort by Glenn Casale who ensures the pacing never wanes, and a breathtaking scenic design by Adam Koch.
Koch’s sets beautifully frame the musical from the outset, introducing us to a majestic abbey in the midst of a dream-like landscape of rolling hills and mountains. We meet the Mother Abbess, played wonderfully by Emmy Award winner Suzanna Guzmán; in fact, the love and selflessness she emotes is so believable that it makes for a performance one is apt to reflect on for a long time. Unlike Jennifer Leigh Warren’s nun, who is more skeptical, Guzmán’s Reverend Mother wants to try and truly understand one of her postulants, Maria, who seems to be incorrigible, highlighted by her constant tardiness and desire to sing. Nevertheless, the Reverend Mother has an assignment for her that may or may not ultimately lead Maria back to the abbey — to be the governess to the seven children of a single, widowed father (Captain von Trapp).
Some might say the character of Maria will always belong to the iconic Julie Andrews; however, the inimitable Diane Phelan not only impossibly rises to the occasion, but manages to wow ceaselessly, beginning with the title number, which underscores an amazing resonance in her voice that ebbs and flows right through the soul. Phelan and Guzmán also share a terrific chemistry – with the latter’s mezzo-soprano vocals seamlessly mixing with the former’s sweet timbre during “My Favorite Things.”
What really takes this musical to the next level, though, is the too-difficult-to-fake camaraderie and playfulness shared between Phelan’s Maria and the actors depicting the von Trapp children. We see the children, wary at first of their new governess, gravitate toward Maria in real time, who teaches them to sing via “Do-Re-Mi” and then comforts them as they visit her bedroom, one by one, during a thunderstorm (“The Lonely Goatherd”). Comprising the all-star children are performers Weston Bagley (Friedrich), Ashley Gallo (Louisa), Alma Marian (Brigitta), Erin Yoonsuh Choi (Marta), along with Oliver Stewart (Kurt) who stands out with his soprano range, Kayla Anjali (Gretl) who nearly steals the show with her brilliant precociousness, and Jenna Lea Rosen (Liesl) who effectively demonstrates her versatile stage prowess as both a pinpoint-accurate singer and a dancer whose flowing movements amount to a visual poetry.
Liesl, the oldest of the von Trapp children, falls for a messenger (Rolf) one year her character’s senior. Cory Lingner is terrific at delineating Rolf’s journey, as the innocent boy who is smitten with Liesl – conveyed during the winsome duet of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” – to one who succumbs to the darkness of Nazism. Conversely, the individual who refuses to be bewitched by the Third Reich, and is usually the intended recipient of Rolf’s deliveries, is the head of the household, Captain von Trapp.
Inhabiting the role of the patriarch is seasoned star Christopher Carl, who commands the stage with his towering presence and smooth vocal register. The Captain, who, despite being one to antiquatedly use a whistle to alert his children, housekeeper Frau Schmidt (Janna Cardia) and butler Franz (Kevin Symons), is also a man of conviction with a loyalty only to Austria, not the politically contaminated Germany. Although he is a disciplinarian and sometimes stubborn, influenced by his high-ranking naval background, Georg von Trapp refuses to compromise his integrity, unlike Elsa (Joanne Javien), his wife-to-be at one point, and Max Detweiler (Roland Ponce Rusinek), the First Secretary of the Ministry of Education & Culture and a conductor, who are satisfied with “pretending” to get along with Nazi Germany so long as it doesn’t affect their ambitions.
Javien is persuasive with her subtle characterizations, making Elsa appropriately unlikable to the children who sense she doesn’t really care about them. Rusinek’s Max, on the other hand, has more redeeming qualities, going from a man happy to hobnob with the affluent to one who learns to admire the Captain’s unremitting stance on defying Nazi orders. Max’s slight shift in perspective is not easy to communicate convincingly, though Rusinek delivers it with clarity.
Inevitably, the trajectories of Maria and the Captain firmly bind together, marking a nexus where faith and conviction cross. Maria learns to conquer the fears of where her destiny may lead and the Captain finds solace in a woman who, like him, is both fiercely protective of family and in maintaining a moral opposition to evil. The message of strength in unimaginably hard times is just as conspicuous, if not more profound, than the narrative arc of the two, initially off-course principal characters, finding a shared purpose in each other.
Overall, La Mirada Theatre’s production of The Sound of Music reminds why it is one of the all-time great musicals. No corners are ever cut, and its first-rate cast, direction, and grand scenic design draw in the audience, who are taken on a journey that is beautiful, moving, sometimes humorous, and, in the end, deeply edifying. As charming as Maria and the von Trapp family are, it is their courage during one of history’s most distressing times that should be the main takeaway.
For more information on The Sound of Music at the La Mirada Theatre, please visit: lamiradatheatre.com