Theatre Sarnia: The Sound of Music — Who Could Resist IT?
Saturday May 3, 2014
by Brian Hay
From the reaction of the near capacity crowd at the opening night of Theatre Sarnia’s production of ‘The Sound of Music’, nobody. And who’d want to? The music Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein wrote for the book by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse that chronicled the story of the Trapp Family Singers is among the most infectious and enduring of the 20th Century. The story itself warms the heart. Theatre Sarnia had a tall order with this one though, and some “technical help” from theatre gremlins giving them an early halloween didn’t make things any easier. More on that later …
The first thing the company did that addressed the difference between their production and the film was following the book and playing the first scene in the convent. Having the gentle chorus by the nuns rather than the famous scene on the mountain emphatically, but gentlely, clarified the message that this was the play, not the film. After that, it was up to the cast and crew.
The person with the most daunting task was Tara Norman. She had to make people stop thinking about Julie Andrews and she did. The first bars of Maria’s opening number seemed odd but she took full command of the part quickly. The combination of her lovely voice, slight awkwardness she assigned to the character, and the warmth that she sang the lovely ‘My Favourite Things’ with brought mist to my eyes for the first of many times over the course of the show. She and the young people playing the Trapp Family Children got a round of applause for that and it was well deserved. It set the tone for the evening.
Another lady facing a tall order was Carol Kernohan. ‘Climb Every Mountain’, the big song for ‘Mother Abbess’, is a standard for Kiri Te Kanawa’. She sang Handel’s ‘Let the Bright Seraphim’ at the royal wedding and was one of the top sopranos in the field for almost three decades before semi-retiring. Carol gave a breathtaking rendition of the piece. She portrayed ‘Mother Abbess’ with a combination of maternal wisdom and girlish mischievousness that belied the stern authoritarian characteristics the rest of the nuns seemed to expect of her. That spontaneous facet of her character and the reactions of the the nuns created much of the humour in the show.
Agneta Czechowicz has a lovely voice as well. Her singing made me wish Rodgers and Hammerstein had written more music for the character of ‘Elsa Schraeder’. She played the role with enough warmth to make her (somewhat) likeable but with the haughtiness sufficient to insure neither the children or Captain Von Trapp would fully embrace her. Kip MacMillan managed the balance between the warmth hidden by Von Trapp’s austere facade well. The interplay between him, ‘Maria’ and the children was often very moving. Roger Graham brought a lot of humour to his portrayal of the unprincipled but (more or less) decent ‘Max Detweiler’ and Andrea Hughes Coleman injected more comic relief with the dry wit she gave to the housekeeper, ‘Frau Schmidt’. Maximilian Hirsch was hilarious, but also ominously menacing, as ‘Herr Zeller’.
The young people who played the Von Trapp children were exceptional. Sophie Laplante (Liesl), Owen Norland (Friedrich), Grace Hakala (Luisa), Ben Adair (Kurt), Olivia Voisey (Brigitta), Ella Norland (Marta) and Karissa Kern (Gretl) all did well with both the task at hand and the curves technical bugs threw their way later on. Their timing was excellent and they interacted beautifully with everything that went on. Their vocal work, both on solo passages and in the ensemble numbers, was strong.
The flat colours used by Set Designers Richard Teskey and Brian Austin Jr. reacted nicely to the various pastel hues applied in Austin’s lighting designs. It also worked exceptionally well with the projections set up by Ian Alexander. Those gave an underlying sense of being a documentary to the production and served as a reminder the story is part of a time not that far removed. The set used in the final scene was especially effective, both for what it showed and the oncoming bleakness it represented. The musical arrangements by Cy Giacomin, and the splendid work of his thirteen piece ensemble drove the production nicely. The wardrobe Lynn Kershaw-Smith created, especially the uniforms for the Nazis, captured the feel of the era well. The production involved a lot of movement of props and equipment but Stage Manager Ethel Crossman and her assistants, Karissa Teskey and Wendy Zonneville, kept the scene changes flowing easily.
After the show Director Richard explained that he stopped handing people lines about four weeks before the show so they’d grasp their characters fully enough to pick something up if things went wrong. It obviously worked well because the poise the ensemble displayed when technical problems set in was amazing. The first of several issues with the sound happened during ‘Rolf’ and ‘Liesl’s’ duet, ‘I Am Sixteen Going On Seventeen’, but Liam McCaskill stayed dead on the script even though Rolf’s lines were alternating between loud and soft. The kids adapted quickly and covered for each other when mikes clicked out during ensemble segments. Nobody flinched when a leaflet fell from the rafters and the performers playing the nuns remained rock steady when a set lamp crashed to the stage three feet behind them. The production, which Teskey had paced nicely anyway, flowed seamlessly enough that theatre gremlins must have stalked away frustrated.
So much for the gremlins’ early halloween. The cast and crew have this one fully in hand. Plenty of misty eyes and an enthusiastic standing ovation confirmed that.
This performance of ‘The Sound of Music’ took place at the Imperial Theatre in Sarnia Ontario on Friday May 2, 2014. It runs through to May 10, 2014. This article was written to convey impressions of what it was like to be at the show.
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