‘The Sound of Music’ Resonates with Deep Human Themes (5 stars)

by Johnny Monsarrat

It felt like 60 seconds into the Sound of Music when I started to hold back tears of joy, and from the sniffles I heard from the audience through the evening, I wasn’t alone. Perhaps the best loved musical of all time, the Sound of Music is about innocence and hope in the face of a world war, expressed through singing that is heartbreakingly beautiful.

Featuring the seven children of a true life Austrian family in 1938, with their nanny, their father, who is a widower, and his fiancee, the first third of the play has nothing to do with war. Then a shadow grows that threatens to snuff out the happiness they have built for themselves. The action takes place in the valley of mountains that symbolize freedom, the question is, will the family survive, but more importantly, will their innocence and love for life survive?

The cast shows a wide range, from hilarious comedy to serious drama, with impressive performances especially from the leads, Lisa O’Hare and David Andrew Macdonald. O’Hare maintains Maria’s innocence even through the play’s darkest moments. And she balances being naive and fearful about the real world outside the convent with being brave in standing up for herself (and the children) in a way that causes no conflict of character. We even get to see her run through the mountains through a bit of magical staging where a hillside of rocks is edged onto the stage. Don’t trip, Maria!

To begin, Macdonald balances brilliantly being aloof but not unlikeable, and then, even when he inevitably melts as the story’s romance unfolds, he maintains his commanding sense of presence instead of becoming a sappy love interest. Although there were a few dead lines from one of the household servants and one of the boys, this is only normal for the opening night of the show. By and large, the children performed flawlessly, and the production took a huge risk in having the kids cue off one another, not just off of adults (which is a more stable way to choreograph child actors). They managed to be frightened by lightning without hamming it up, and the “cute kids” phenomenon remains endearing and not sickly oversweet. We are even treated to somersaults and a backflip from little Haven Pereira. There’s quite a bit of physical humor, with genuine chemistry among the entire cast, not just the leads.

Throughout the show, the music will bring tears to your eyes. Unlike most musicals, every song is a hit that you’ll recognize, the exception being “No Way to Stop It”, but I suspect that was intended by the playwrights to be ugly, as it is a call to wartime appeasement. Bless her English accent, calling us back to Julie Andrews from the Sound of Music movie, O’Hare manages to make the role her own, and performing music interferes in no way with her childlike antics or earnest pleas. Kudos go to the lighting and staging by Michael Barnett and Jeff Modereger respectively. Audiences are used to rapid scene changes but rarely as they so fluid as with this production, and the Nazis appear on the scene with a snap of staging that shocks. The choreography by directory James Brennan allows the cast to stay in character throughout, and they sing to each other, rather than halting the story for a big Broadway dance number singing to the audience and then returning. To my ears the balance and quality of the sound design, by Charles Coes, was unnoticeable and therefore perfect, no matter which way the actors were facing on the circular stage, in the theatre-in-the-round style where every seat is close to the show. Two details from the Sound of Music movie that could perhaps have been added to the show are that Edelweiss is meant to be a traditional Austrian tune, an act of defiance, and that possibly Joy Franz as Frau Schmidt could have been meaner, intending to send the children away to boarding school. Her Frau Schmidt’s fight with Von Trapp about the war is similarly a bit smoothed over rather than caustic.

Even before the show begins, you will feel a sense of community at the North Shore Music Theatre in how the administrators welcome the crowd and make their announcements. On opening night, a descendant of the Von Trapp family appeared to give away tickets to the Von Trapp lodge in Stowe, Vermont. Just like the play, the production is placed in an idyllic setting, the North Shore Music Theatre. You can arrive early, get the best parking spot, and have dinner there, which also has a bar and a snack shop. During intermission or after the show,you can enjoy a walk through outdoor pathways lit by torches. The venue is also accessible on the commuter rail.

My job to find flaws is impossible with The Sound of Music. I have never seen a stronger production at the North Shore Music Theatre. The phrase “must see” is overused, but trust me on this, you must see this show. Even if you think of yourself as too edgy and hard core for musicals, the Sound of Music is far from sappy, and this show is for you. If you have small kids, the war is only hinted at in ways that only adults will understand, and this show will delight them (although try for a matinee, as the show starting at 7:30pm does not let out until nearly 11pm). The Sound of Music reaches down to primal, basic roots of what it means to be human. Perhaps that is why humans from choir boys to biker gals love it so much. This production is not a traveling show — it was produced specifically for the North Shore Music Theatre and ends June 23. Buy your tickets now before it sells out. You’ll be singing to yourself all week.

For more, see http://nsmt.org.