The Sound of Music; “a really Big Shew” 1

Review by Danny Gaisin
In 1959, after tryouts in Montreal, Rogers & Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music” opened on Broadway and became an immediate hit. Staging it today is a big undertaking…big production; big cast and big challenge. Theatre Unlimited has delineated its registered name by successfully accomplishing reprising one of ‘my favorite things’ at Mississauga’s Meadowvale Theatre and it is an amazingly professional product. The T.U. team deserves an “A+” for both effort and result.

The [large] cast of SOUND OF MUSIC

The [large] cast of SOUND OF MUSIC

Director Michael Buchert accepted the test of dealing with a cast of forty-eight, including some single-digit pre-teens. The entire creation is totally professional and obviously receives full measure of dedication from every cast member as well as the enthusiastic crew. From the opening ‘Dixit Dominus’ with the nuns entering the stage through the audience; to the finale escape from post-Anschluss Austria, audiences will be spell-bound as well as immersed in the events unfolding on stage. This writer suspects that Buchert decided to permit his charges to imbue their own personalities into their on-stage portrayals. This is most noticeable in the behavior and interaction of the von Trapp children.
The play is about relationships and every one of the storylines plus subplots give the audience insights that are personal & identifiable. The pivotal role of Maria is performed by Ruth Dowdell and she proves to be a perfect choice for the part. Her voice is delightful and her diction – remarkably coherent. Facially, she captures the naivety of her character and illuminates the stage with her presence. As her love interest, Tristan Emmanuel has the trained voice and poise to impart reality on an abnormally autocratic pater familias. His transformation into a more caring parent and compassionate person is totally credible. The eldest child is Liesl and Skyla Baker brings voice, Terpsichore and acting ability to her ingenuous teenager role. The familiar duet about being ‘sixteen going on seventeen’ with Mark Meisner is a highpoint.
There are three major support roles…the Mother Abbess whose interpretation by Daniela Barbosa has a soupçon of lightheartedness that adds some spice to her character. The hero’s friend and professional producer Max is depicted by Tom Hope who also displays a classically trained background. Von Trapp’s first love interest is Elsa Schraeder and Claire Prendergast utilized her extremely mobile façade to accentuate the various emotions the role requires. Alas, her voice began breaking but in the best of thespian tradition, gamely carried on until intermission. Then understudy Melanie Baril assumed the role. A fitting gesture –both ladies took final bows arm-in-arm to tumultuous applause.
There is a show-stopping number where the children jump into Maria’s bed while she sings about a ‘Lonely Goatherd’. During the recitation; stage-right has a group of storybook players act out the lyrics. Both activities are fascinating but the action to our left is unfortunately not illuminated enough and deserves more spotting.
The kiddies after Liesl, in age rank; are Harrison Bruce (Friedrich); Allyssa McDonald (Louisa); Nicholas Gryniewski (Kurt); Sara Black (Brigitta); Lindsay Wilson (Marta); and Jessica Ruschka as Gretl. Each one is a scene stealer. Individually they are adorable; as a team – unbeatable and totally impacting.

Maria and her Von Trapp charges

Maria and her Von Trapp charges

The set designs while not elaborate; are functional and representative of the Abbey; the mansion and the terrace, which coupled with a large rear projection give a feeling of the glorious Austro-Swiss Alps and its sweeping vistas. The elaborate and detailed costumes by Linda Amos, JoAnn DaCunha and their team are of Stratford or Shaw class. As for the music…Kelly Baker’s eighteen musicians are faultless and never overpowering.
I first saw the play in 1958 when the show was still being polished. Montreal was an overnight train ride from New York, so Her Majesty’s Theatre was a fashionable spot for runthroughs. Fortunately, my buddy’s family owned the place so the price was right for a double-date! Eons later, I still have trouble NOT singing along with the show’s musical numbers and especially the poetic lyrics. A definite O.A.R. Top Ten contender; this is one show we would certainly enjoy seeing again.

The Sound of Music runs until Feb. 1st. Call 905-615-4720 for tickets.

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