Theatre Review: “The Sound of Music” at Beef and Boards

The Von Trapp family in B&B’s The Sound of Music - photo by Julie Curry

Last Saturday night I picked up my friend and sister storyteller, Sandra Harris.  We drove over to the Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre to see “The Sound of Music.”  (Music by Richard Rogers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, suggested by The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.)

I love this story of a young woman who thinks she knows what God wants her to do with her life.  For a while in my youth, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, by Maria Augusta Trapp, was a comfort read for me.  I have lost count how many times I have seen the movie version of “The Sound of Music.”

B&B’s staged version, directed by Elizabeth Stark and musically directed by Debbie Myers, is different than either the book or the movie.  For one thing, it is very fast-paced.  Also, there are a couple of songs that I had never heard before.  Some old favorites appear in unexpected places.  And finally, it is just plain odd, at first, to see anyone but Julie Andrews starring as Maria. 

However, Christine Negherbon quickly and completely won me over with her own fresh interpretation of the role.  She gives nun-wannabe Maria a down-to-earth warmth and humor that is believable and appealing.  Her singing is beautiful and friendly, too.

In fact, many aspects of the B&B production are winning.  They make for a very enjoyable and satisfying evening.

Dan Debenport stars as Captain Georg Von Trapp, the handsome but emotionally shut-down widower who only wants a governess for his seven children.  Light glints off the whistle that he uses to call them. 

Maria, just by being herself, helps the Captain remember the importance of music, and of laughter and stories and love.  Their duet of “Something Good” as they fall in love with each other made me melt.  I have already said that Negherbon’s voice is beautiful and oh, my, Debenport has a deep and glorious voice. 

My breath caught and tears threatened to spill when, at another point in the show, the Captain echoes a line from one of Maria’s songs: “I go to the hills when my heart is lonely.” 

My tears did spill towards the end of the show when he sings “Edelweiss.” Thinking of his Austrian homeland now taken over by Nazis, his voice falters. Maria steps close to him and picks up the song until he can sing it again, with her.  For many reasons, I don’t want the kind of traditional marriage that they have, but I do believe that we are only as strong as the love in our lives.

Good heavens, I am tearing up again, remembering that scene!

The von Trapp children are appealing, but in a real-kid way, which makes them even more charming.  In this show, Maria teaches them the “Do Re Mi” song at their very first meeting.  The children bob up and down and gesture the words in a way that is hard to describe but a lot of fun to watch.  (Choreography by Ron Morgan.)

The six youngest children are local actors from Indianapolis, Noblesville, Carmel, Greenwood, and Fishers.  Sydney Miller plays the adorable youngest of them all, Gretl.  Joshua Peduto plays Friedrich, the rascally but dependable oldest boy.  Graham Zima plays the earnest Kurt, who ably dances the Lindler with his governess at the grand party.  Anna Lasbury plays the oh-so-truthful (and funny) Brigitta.  Kelsey Hopper as Louisa and Kara Oates as Marta do their best to trip up their new governess at first but eventually they come around.

My friend Sandra especially admired Lara Hayhurst, who plays the oldest daughter, Liesl.  Sandra said in the car on the ride home, “Good singer, good dancer, and a good actress.  She is just darling!”

We both laughed in delight at Liesl’s “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” duet with the self-important but basically good-hearted telegram delivery boy, Rolf Gruber (J. Tyler Whitmer.) 

According to the “Fun Facts” that B&B media relations manager Patricia Rettig provided in my press kit, Lara Hayhurst is “originally from Pittsburgh and now a newlywed living in New York City…(She) will be embarking on her first National Tour shortly after The Sound of Music ends.  She will be playing the role of Kim MacAfee in Bye Bye Birdie, which will tour the U.S. and Canada.”

Dee Etta Row plays the Mother Abbess, aka the Reverend Mother.  I wanted to hug her when she sympathized with Maria about the need for some songs “to be sung at the top of your voice.”  Row is loving and sprightly in both her acting and her singing.  Her rendition of “Climb Every Mountain” moved me in a way that the movie version never has.

There are three other nuns:  Sister Berthe (Jill Blevins-O’Malia), Sister Margaretta (Jill Kelly), and Sister Sophia (Amy Baxter.)    Their advice and musical back-up is clear and amusing when Reverend Mother is trying to figure out how to solve a problem like “Maria.”

The lighting during that number is captivating, too.  One line in the song is “How do you hold a moonbeam in your hands?”  Through the lighting, the Reverend Mother almost seems to. (Lighting design by Michael Layton.)

I was flabbergasted to realize after reading my program that the glamorous Elsa Schraeder is played by Sarah Hund, the same actor who played the wacky June in “Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming” earlier this year.  I hadn’t recognized her!  Here, she plays a refined, fashionable, and wealthy CEO who loves the captain but who does not, ultimately, share his ideals.  Even though I knew that the captain and Frau Schraeder were wrong for each other, I ached in sympathy for her carefully managed loneliness.

Frau Schraeder’s gay boyfriend (but no one calls him that, since this is 1938) is the self-proclaimed “characterless but lovable” Max Detweiler.  Douglas E. Holmes gives Herr Detweiler a fussy and endearing quality that reminded me of the late comedian Paul Lynde.

The Captain’s mansion is staffed by two people.  The butler, Franz (played by Michael Davis), has a dry sense of humor and, unfortunately, a sympathy for the Nazis.  The housekeeper, Frau Schmidt (played by Jill Kelly, who doubles as Sister Margaretta) is respectful, but she, too, has a sense of humor and a love of gossip.  Davis’ and Kelly’s witty portrayals of these “small” roles provide an important extra layer to the story.

Adam O. Crowe and Tony McDonald provide the equally important Nazi layer. Crowe plays the intimidating but human Admiral Von Schreiber.  McDonald plays the weasel-y and always cross Herr Zeller.  They both want Captain von Trapp to accept a commission in the German navy.  Crowe also plays a priest in full bishop’s regalia.

Brian Horton designed the costumes.  I especially loved Elsa’s gorgeous, up-to-the-1938-minute fashions and the family’s traditional folk outfits for their concert.

The staging of the show is clever.  The cast members move exuberantly through and around a relatively simple, rotating balcony unit and versatile, arched lattices in ways that make it easy to imagine that you are with them in the Alps, in an abbey, or in a rich naval captain’s mansion…even though everything takes place on B&B’s tiny stage.  (Scenic design by Michael Layton.  Ed Stockman is the stage manager.  Bill Mollencupp was the technical director.)

The B&B orchestra sounds especially lovely in this show.  Sound design is by Daniel Hesselbrock.  The orchestra includes Debbie Myers (conductor/keyboard), Kristy Templet (keyboard synthesizer), Ernie Coleson (woodwinds), David Coleson (trumpet), Tim Kelly (percussion), and Terry Woods (keyboard.)

There was a six-year-old girl sitting at the table next to me who laughed out loud at the Von Trapp children’s antics and Maria’s yodeling during a thunderstorm, but who otherwise sat enthralled.  There were also several adult couples celebrating their wedding anniversaries, including the B&B’s own Patricia Rettig and her husband!  And, of course, there were lots of people of all ages celebrating their birthdays.

“Billie” was our server.  Sandra and I had a lot to talk about before the show and during the intermission, because she leads the “As I Recall Storytelling Guild” that meets regularly at Glendale Library and I wanted to hear about the swap that they have planned for the Saturday afternoon of the Hoosier Storytelling Festival coming up this weekend.  Billie and her assistants did a wonderful job of taking care of us without fussing over us.

Chef Odell Ward’s buffet was well stocked with comfort foods, as usual.  New to me, though, was the “Breaded Hoki.”  It was a kind of fish.  Sandra and I both thought it was delicious.

“The Sound of Music” continues at the Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through November 23, 2008.  Please call 317-872-9664 or visit the B&B website to make a reservation.

By the way, I also learned from my press kit that:

Christine Negherbon’s husband, Joe, is currently in “The Little Mermaid” on Broadway.  Together they are writing a book that she refers to as “the death of the Starving Artist Syndrome.”  The book, to be entitled The Thriving Artists, is due out early next year. 

It sounds interesting!

Hope Baugh –

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