Matthew Reddin

Skylight set to bring “Sound of Music” to life

The stage version of the 1965 Julie Andrews film is a family-friendly show for the holidays, making its Skylight premiere.

By - Nov 15th, 2012 04:00 am
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Elizabeth Telford has no intention of mimicking Julie Andrews’ version of Maria von Trapp, instead putting her own spin on the iconic governess. Photo credit Mark Frohna.

Most everyone who’s seen the film version of The Sound of Music has fallen in love with it. So staging the musical, as the Skylight Music Theatre will do for the first time ever this season, is both a safe bet and a risky move – because the cast has to be capable of capturing that same magic.

Director Molly Rhode doesn’t see that last bit as a problem.

“It’s a story that’s so beloved, which makes it daunting on the one hand but freeing on the other, because we all know how it works,” she said. “It’s compelling and satisfying and a great piece of theater.”

While The Sound of Music’s story ­– unorthodox nun-in-training goes to be a governess, falls in love with the kids, falls in love with their father and then escapes Austria with the Nazis on their heels – is best known in cinematic form, the Rodgers and Hammerstein film began as a stage musical in 1959. There’s differences between the two variations’ book and libretto, but the Skylight’s production will hew closer to the film, most notably by using the added songs “I Have Confidence” and “Something Good” rather than their original counterparts.

But this won’t be a simplistic retread of the film, and Elizabeth Telford, the production’s Maria von Trapp, won’t just be a Julie Andrews clone. Her rationale is simple: “I can’t be Julie Andrews, so I’m not really going to try.”

Instead, Telford said, she’s emphasizing Maria’s free, mountainous upbringing – she’s impulsive, tomboyish and prone to spurts of energy. It’s a portrayal designed to remind an audience Maria is very much a young woman still trying to find her way.

Director Molly Rhode chose to include two songs from the movie in this production of “The Sound of Music,” including “Something Good,” a duet between Capt. von Trapp (Steve Koehler) and Maria (Elizabeth Telford). Photo by Mark Frohna.

Telford’s just one of the many, many people in The Sound of Music cast – the largest in Skylight history, ultimately totaling 63 actors. Rhode said that the large cast wasn’t a challenge to direct, but it did present some logistical issues. “The only thing difficult to manage was time,” Rhode said. “Very careful planning and scheduling became just as important as good artistic choices.

Part of the cast’s bulk comes from an auxiliary choir of 21 nuns. Such a large chorus is of course not strictly necessary, but Telford said she couldn’t imagine the show without them. “They sound so beautiful,” Telford said. “The first time I heard them singing, I just wanted to cry backstage.”

Perhaps the biggest character of all is the setting itself: the picturesque Austrian Alps. They’re what Rhode remembers best from watching the film as a child, but since 80 percent of the musical’s scenes take place indoors, it was harder to showcase them the way she wanted. Set designer Peter Dean Beck fixed her problem. “I asked Peter to bring as much of the outdoors into his design as possible,” Rhode said. “He managed this in ways I never would have imagined, and in his gorgeous set the mountains remain visible in nearly all our interior scenes.”

It’s a beauty of sight that blends with the film’s beauty of sound – but Telford believes it’s the emotional heart of The Sound of Music that makes the musical successful. To prove her point, she cited one of her favorite scenes, where the von Trapp children surprise their father with a performance of “The Sound of Music” on his return home, causing him to drop his stern, emotionless mask for the first time. Her takeaway could sum up the whole show: “It’s really difficult not to be touched by that.”

The Skylight Music Theatre will present The Sound of Music, from Friday, Nov. 16 through Monday, Dec. 31, all shows at 2 or 7:30 p.m. Featured actors include Steve Koehler (Capt. Georg Von Trapp), Cynthia Marty (Mother Abbess) Kay Stiefel (Elsa), artistic director Bill Theisen (Max), Ryan Tutton (Rolf) and Erin Stapleton (Liesl); musical direction is by Jamie Johns. Tickets are $22.50 to $65.50 and can be purchased at (414) 291-7800 or the online box office.

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