REVIEW: The Sound of Music fresh like alpine stream

Rogers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music may not be a sound that’s been sung for a thousand years, but it certainly has been around for a long time. It debuted on Broadway almost 60 years ago and, overcoming charges of saccharine sweetness. For years Christopher Plummer referred to the 1965 movie he starred in as the “Sound of Mucus” – and yet it lives on in our hearts as one of the most popular musical of all times.

It has survived innumerable iterations – and this latest mounting from Broadway Across Canada, at the Jubilee Auditorium until Sept. 24, could possibly be one of the best.

Not that the original touring production director Jack O’Brien’s take on the old warhorse offered anything new, but that is one of the show’s greatest joys. The three-time Tony Award-winner returned to R & H’s original simple concept while adding a few flourishes of his own. In keeping with today’s demands for more dimensional characters, he revisited Lindsay and Crouse’s dialogue and has his actors add a sheen of emotion and intellect that makes many of the familiar old words sound as if you are hearing them for the first time. Particularly in the movie, the kids were a polished vaudeville act as soon as they started to sing. Here they more believably develop as they move toward the more complex choral work in the Do-Re-Mi reprise at the end of the second act.

O’Brien’s work is recreated by the current tour director Matt Lenz, and the casting of the actors are closer to the real ages of the characters. When Liesl (Keslie Ward) sings of being Sixteen Going on Seventeen, she brings a dewy adolescent freshness to her character. Lenz is also a brilliant stager, keeping the show visual and fast-paced while papering over the slow spots with a new energy.

Those used to the movie will miss some beloved elements. Missing is Maria’s exuberant hymn to self-realization, I Have Confidence in Me, and the puppets of the Lonely Goatherd. Everyone’s favourite song for exorcising scary thunderstorms, My Favourite Things, is here a bonding exercise between the Mother Abbess (Lauren Kidwell) and Maria (Jill-Christine Wiley) sung in the gloomy cloisters of the abbey.

For anyone who has been living with the Ewoks on the Forest Moon of Endor for the last 60 years, The Sound of Music has would-be nun Maria Rainer being sent off to be governess of the von Trapp Children in the 1938 Austria of Anschluss. Their martinet sailor-father Captain von Trapp (Mike McLean) has recently lost his wife and has been absent much of the time. The kids are unruly. With a combination of firm discipline, love (and music), Maria wins them over. Later the family escapes the Nazis, who have taken over their beloved Austria, by climbing over the Alps to haven in Switzerland.

This sumptuous production has been cast well. Julie Andrews will always be a tough act to follow, but Wiley has a pure crystalline soprano. She’s a winsome enough actress but when she sings – it’s like a clear glacier-fed alpine stream. McLean also sings well and believably melts under the relentless charm of his rediscovered children and his growing love for their governess. Melissa McKamie as the brittle Elsa and Jake Mills as the waffling impresario, Max Detweiler, provide some effective comic moments. The 11 O’Clock number Climb Every Mountain is delivered (twice) with clarion volume (and much emotional wallop) by Kidwell. I suspect there were few dry eyes in the house as the family von Trapp climbed those mountains toward freedom with a chorus of nuns, with all stops out, musically exhorting them on.

And, oh, the glorious music. Just a list of the songs elicits a wave of nostalgia for other magic evenings at the theatre: Edelweiss … How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria … Do-Re-Mi… So Long, Farewell…

The hills echo once more to The Sound of Music and seldom as effectively as in this lovely production.