The Hills are Alive: Bay City Players Brings Fresh Faces, Three Sets of Siblings, and a 21-piece Orchestra To Brighten their Production of the Iconic American Musical, ‘The Sound of Music’

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music,   From Issue 808   By: Robert E Martin

09th April, 2015     0

Few American musicals have touched as many hearts & minds as Rogers & Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music. This by now classic tale of a young postulant that becomes Governess to seven adopted children in war-torn Austria assumes a poignancy that only true stories can convey, while also growing richer and stronger within our hearts over the years because of the selfless humanity that it both exhibits and generates.

Bay City Players is bringing a fresh new presentation of this timeless musical classic to the stage in a special series of performances that will run from April 30 – May 3 and May 7-10th.

Recently, I sat down with Director Kurt Miller to discuss both the magic and challenges that go into rendering one of the American Theatres most technically complex and enduring plays to the regional stage.

Considering that The Sound of Music is one of the most treasured works in the lexicon of American theatre, with Julie Andrews iconic performance as Maria pretty much branded in the public mind-set, how does Kurt go about approaching this beloved musical so that he can bring something fresh and distinct to it through the Bay City Players production?

“First of all, the movie and stage versions bear some significant differences,” reflect Miller.  “Playgoers are usually surprised to learn that My Favorite Things is a duet between Mother Abbess and Maria, rather than a group piece among Maria and the children. In the movie, there are no songs from Max (the booking agent and rich person's friend) and Elsa, (Captain von Trapp's short term fiancée). In the play, however, they sing two songs with Captain von Trapp. Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer have certainly become icons associated with The Sound of Music, but Mary Martin originated the role of Maria on Broadway in 1959, at the interesting age of 46. Theodore Bikel played Captain von Trapp.”

When asked what he feels are the qualities involved with The Sound of Music that make is such an enduring piece of work, Kurt admits it can be a challenge to find a new way to approach the show. “But I realized that after 56 years, several Broadway revivals, and a movie version that has been seen by billions, it's the music, the love story, and the drama of the escape from the pursuing Nazis that make the show.”

“But especially the music. Ask any kid what follows "Doe a deer, a female deer," and you're going to get "Ray, a drop of golden sun" nine out of ten times. There is not a dud among the songs, although I must say that I favor the song "I Must Have Done Something Good" from the movie, to "An Ordinary Couple," which Maria and the Captain sing in the gazebo. "The Sound of Music," "Climb Every Mountain", "Edelweiss," and especially the soaring harmonies of the nuns, both a capella and accompanied, are what people come to hear.”

“We've added a few twists to the production that I think audiences will enjoy,” he continues. “In order to keep things moving, there is no curtain. Scene changes are made in front of the audience using nuns as the scene change crew. There is one open set, and we use pieces of furniture, lighting, stained glass, etc., to achieve the next location.”

“We were lucky enough to have 160 people audition for the show, so I had a wealth of talent from which to choose. We have a dozen nuns, and of course the seven von Trapp children, but there were some very talented people who just didn't fit into the show anywhere else, so I've added ten cast members and two numbers to the Kaltzberg Festival scene near the end. They get a chance to sing and dance a couple of non-sequitur songs. During "Edelweiss", the audience will get a chance to sing along with Captain von Trapp before the family escapes over the mountain. Interesting side note: the real von Trapps simply walked to a train station close to their home and took a train to Italy from where they emigrated. No pursuing Nazis.”

With such a large and well-known production, Kurt admits the most challenging component involves the size of the cast, the number of scenes, and how the fear of a marathon production can present challenges. “  I have a great crew, including Holly Haga Bills on choreography, Eileen Harrigan as vocal director, and Sandy Honsinger as Orchestra Director. We have a 21-piece orchestra (happy with their remodeled orchestra pit), 38 cast members, and Judy Miller who, as Producer, handles all the details that go into the production off stage, including keeping me (her husband) on task and on budget.”

Given how this musical has a broad age-span in terms of casting; is it difficult working with actors from so many varied age groups?  “I love the directing process, although the time commitment is significant. The kids are all very talented. You throw something at them and they not only catch it, they make it their own. The youngest cast member is 7, the oldest is 60ish, so yes, there are a variety of communication skills necessary. We are proud to have many people on stage who are new to Bay City Players, and several who are new to performing at all. The veterans teach the newbies, and it all works out. I will direct from the house, on stage, the pit, off stage left and right...wherever I feel I need to be. I'm very active during rehearsals. The cast is encouraged to ask questions, clarify directions, and offer suggestions. I do, however, reserve the right to make final decisions.”

“We’ve assembled an interesting cast,” concludes Miller. “There are three sets of siblings, and three families of Millers represented among the cast. We have a Norwegian exchange student playing Rolf. The entire Yantz family is in the show, along with 75% of the Wood-Millers and 60% of the Lodewyks. There are 21 cast members new to Bay City Players, and eight cast members who have never been in a play prior to this experience. It fulfills a key part of Bay City Players' mission statement: to educate in addition to entertaining.”

“As of this interview, we have sold 1900 of the 2300 available tickets. We expected them to go quickly, so are adding a Matinee on May 9th at 2:00 PM. I encourage people to use the website to place ticket orders.”

Bay City Players production of ‘The Sound of Music will run from April 30 – May 3 and May 7 -10. For tickets you can call 989-893-5555 or visit



Turning Reality Into Myth • A Conversation with Elisabeth Von Trapp

By Robert E. Martin

Several years ago when the famous movie version of The Sound of Music was celebrating its 45th Anniversary, I had the opportunity to interview Elisabeth Von Trapp, who was the grand-daughter of Maria Von Trapp – the pivotal character who’s story this timeless tale is based around.   With this upcoming Bay City Players production, I felt it would prove engaging to revisit portions of my interview with her.

Review: Do you have any specific memories back when the film version of The Sound of Music, which chronicled your grandmother’s early life and escape from Austria during the advent of Nazi Germany was released?

Elisabeth Von Trapp: I have very vivid memories of that whole experience.  I was 10 years old and my sister returned to Vermont after living in Austria for 3 years. She met Julie Andrews on the movie set when my Grandmother was on one of her buying trips.

By the way, my Grandmother was not at all like Julie Andrews.  In fact she may have been the total opposite. My father sang and performed for 20 years with the Von Trapp Family Singers from 1936 to 1956. The day I was born my father was able to be there, as he was for the birth of all his children.

But my Grandmother was a very remarkable person. She was a spectacular hostess, very gracious, and loved serving Austrian pastry in the afternoon. I remember having fond experiences visiting her and running to her apartment to say hello and being greeted with incredible stories of her experiences, and her vivid descriptions of the people she met, or whatever she encountered. She was a great storyteller, which shows in the books that she wrote.

Music was always a daily thing in our family. I grew up in the 1960s and loved listening to The Mamas & the Papas, Bob Dylan and Judy Collins, while my brothers listened to The Kinks and The Rolling Stones.  I even had a little portable record player that I could take out into the fields if I wanted.

But whenever my mother or father came into the house, the Vivaldi, Mozart and Bach would start up, which was no problem for me, and a pleasure to listen to all the classical albums that we had. From that experience I developed an understanding of how old music grew into the new, how it changed, even the consciousness of our musical history. It is so rich and varied. The further back you go, the more you understand the pendulum to create something new.





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