The Sound of Music: The Midland Center for the Arts Brings Fresh Shine, New Faces and a Special Appearance to an Iconic American Musical

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Artist Feature,   From Issue 713   By: Robert E Martin

21st October, 2010     0

Perhaps no other musical in the lexicon of American theatre has touched as many hearts as Rogers & Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music. This by now classic tale of a young postulant that becomes Governess to seven orphaned children in war-torn Austria assumes a poignancy that only true stories can convey, while growing richer and stronger within our hearts over the years because of the selfless humanity that it generates.

The Midland Center for the Arts is presenting a special production of The Sound of Music on October 23-24 and 29-30, with a special guest appearance from international recording artist Elisabeth von Trapp, granddaughter of Maria, whom will perform on stage prior to each show.

Recently I sat down with lead actress Emily Anderson and Director Keeley Stanley-Bohn to discuss both the magic and challenges that go into the translation and rendering of one of the American Theatre’s most technically complex and enduring plays.

Additionally, several years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elisabeth von Trapp, so have included some of her thoughts and impressions about the amazing heritage of her family.

Review: The Sound of Music is one of the most treasured and well-known productions in the lexicon of American theatre, with Julie Andrews an iconic name in terms of branding the role of Maria in the public mindset. How do you go about approaching a role like this so you can bring something fresh and distinct to it?

Emily Anderson: First, let me say that I love Julie Andrews. I’ve seen all of her movies and read her autobiography. When I played Guinevere in Camelot, which was a role Julie originated on Broadway, it was much easier to let ‘Julie’ go because I hadn’t seen her in that show, only heard the recording.

But when it comes to Maria, I’ve seen the movie a dozen times or more! I’ll catch myself in rehearsal putting a Julie Andrews inflection on something and have found the best way to break free of that is to really focus on the connection with the other actors in the scene. Then it becomes more honest and less formulated. It has to be all about the connection between the characters and the story you’re trying to tell.
Keeley Stanley-Bohn:  The Sound of Music is one of our most beloved musicals, but most people think first of the movie rather than the play and there are plenty of differences between the two.  I think it's a mistake to start any directing project with a goal of bringing something "distinct" to the play.  The danger with that approach is you may end up wrenching things from a script that may not actually be there in order to make the production stand out.  My goal is always to do the play that's in front of me and honor what the playwright intended.  Having said that, I also am not interested in simply remounting someone else's production (even if it was Tony-nominated).  I am most interested in telling the story that's in the script.  It's a very compelling story and I believe it stands on its own.

Review:What do you feel are the qualities involved with The SoundofMusic that makes it such an enduring piece of work?

Emily: It’s about family, loyalty and love. Who can argue with that? I heard recently that when The Sound of Music first opened on Broadway that the critics had mixed feelings about the show. Mostly, they complained that the story was too sentimental. Richard Rogers responded, “It’s my conviction that anyone who can’t, on occasion, be sentimental about children, home, or nature is sadly maladjusted.” I couldn’t agree more.

Keeley: As mentioned earlier, I believe the story is very compelling.  It's a love story at heart with an overriding theme of family.  The dangerous backdrop of World War II makes for an irresistible setting as we follow the journey of Maria from a young, idealistic postulant to a maturing woman in love.  Her willingness to commit herself to seven motherless children is both inspiring and touching.  Plus, the fact that this all is based on a true story makes it even better.

Review: What do you feel is the most challenging components involved with bringing a production such as this to fruition?

Emily: I think the most challenging aspect is audience expectation. Because almost everyone has seen the movie, they have certain expectations about what they’re going to see. There is a lot of nostalgia involved that grandparents and parents want to share with their children, and rightfully so!  You have to meet those expectations without ‘copying’ what has been done before. And that’s true about everything in the show, from costumes and sets to individual performances. It’s art and it’s meant to be experimented with, but you also want the audience to walk away with the goosebumps that they paid for.”

Keeley: The Sound of Music is such a large show that one of the biggest challenges is just staying on top of the various elements.  The cast is over thirty strong and range in age from eight years to adult, there are twenty different scenes with six separate locations required, numerous songs, design decisions, etc.  We're in technical rehearsals now and that always presents new challenges as we try and pull all of the elements together into a cohesive whole.

Review:  This production has a broad age-span in terms of casting; is it difficult working with actors from so many varied age groups?

Emily: It’s really not difficult. I love it! For me, theatre has always been about building a close knit family, so it would be strange if it didn’t include little kids and grandparents. It would be like having Christmas without your little cousins running around. Yes, it would be quieter without them, but the magic would be gone. I have a 3-and-a-half year old son who I have been spending a lot of time away from lately because of rehearsals, so it’s great I still get my “Mommy fix’ with the von Trapp kids. They’re wonderful kids, every one of them.

Keeley: I haven’t found it difficult to work with the wide range of ages in this show. This cast consists of a wonderful group of people who have all worked very hard to create a strong ensemble. They have been a joy to work with and the younger members have brought an exuberant energy to rehearsal that is contagious.

Review: Any other thoughts on areas I may not have touched upon?

Keeley: One thing I would add here is a note of appreciation for the support of the talented people I’ve been fortunate enough to work with at Center Stage. From the designers (set, sound, costumes, props and lights) to the staff at the Center, to the Music Director, the choreographer, my stage manager and actors. Across the board they have made this an absolutely enjoyable experience.

Turning Reality Into Myth •
A Conversation with Elisabeth Von Trapp

With the famous movie version of The Sound of Music celebrating its 45th Anniversary this year, does Elisabeth Von Trapp have any specific memories back when the film chronicling her grandmother’s early life, and escape from Austria during the advent of Nazi Germany was released?

“I have very vivid memories of that whole experience,” she relates. “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,” laughs Elisabeth. “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 story teller, which shows in the books that she wrote.”

“Music was always a daily thing in our family,” continues Von Trapp, regarding her youthful recollections. “I grew up in the ‘60s and loved listening to The Mamas & the Papas, Bob Dylan and Judy Collins, while my brothers listened to The Kinds 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.”

Tickets for The Sound of Music at The Midland Center for the Arts can be purchased by calling 800-523-7649.


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