The Sound of Music
What is the point of summer if not for indulging guilty pleasures? Accordingly, I drove up the coast to catch the Cabrillo Music Theater production of "The Sound of Music" onstage through July 31 at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.
It is horrifying to imagine the deep vat of treacle into which this show would descend were it not for the genius of Rodgers and Hammerstein. The latter was forever skirting the edge of sappiness, but never quite falling in: a remarkable feat which, along with Rodger’s unparalleled melodic gifts, is what makes the R&H canon irresistible.
For the "Sound of Music" to avoid cloying, good direction is essential and this fully realized production helmed by Lewis Wilkenfeld wades into the goo without drowning. The children are not über-cutesy, and the burgeoning von Trapp/Maria romance develops without an excess of sentimentality.
Those familiar with "The Sound of Music" only from the 1965 Robert Wise film have never experienced the counterweight that gives the show depth. The urbane other woman, Elsa and her fey confidante, the impresario Max Detweiler sing the profoundly cynical "How Can Love Survive" and "No Way to Stop It," both cut from the film.
These numbers explore the all too human impulse to not rock the boat; to accommodate evil for convenience’s sake. The von Trapp’s futile resistance to their countrymen’s moral cravenness is the core of the work, and the omission of these two numbers reduced the movie version to a somewhat vacuous, if tuneful and gorgeous, travelogue.
(Note to this and all future productions: please, please avoid the temptation to shoehorn the ghastly "I Have Confidence" into the show. It was NOT written by R&H and was only inserted in the film so that Julie Andrews could dance down a country road to yet more second unit scenic footage. It’s a dreadful piece of dreck).
As Maria, Shannon Warne exhibits impressive pipes and navigates the role with great skill. Her Maria is loving, but practical. Her grounding resolves a small problem with Tom Schmidt’s Captain von Trapp who though handsome, four square and powerfully voiced, exhibits little of the inner charm by which we comprehend his transformation once his regimented family is bought back to life through music. We sense it is she who takes his rigid nationalism and transforms it into the courageous impulse of taking his family over the mountains and away from the Anschluss.
Elsa and Detweiler are wonderfully portrayed by Laura Cable and Michael G. Hawkins. She zeroes in on the terrible sadness that collaboration will bring to all of Austria and he finds the perfect blend of charm and oiliness that keeps cowards safe in times of moral and political upheaval.
Marilyn Anderson belts out "Climb Ev’ry Mountain" impressively. Allison Woods and Tyler Matthew Burk navigate the roles of Liesl and Rolf with great energy. Liesl’s siblings are delightfully played by Michael Kennedy, Lyrissa Leininger, Mason Purece, Audry Miller, Natalie Esposito and the ridiculously adorable Kristina Van Horst as the baby Gretl. (For the record, in real life Maria and Georg von Trapp had been married ten years and popped out three of the children themselves by the time German tanks rumbled into Vienna.)
The design work is top notch, especially Jonathan Burke’s sound design. The massive and multi-faceted set is uncredited. Lights are by Rand Ryan. Darryl Achibald conducts the mostly in tune pit orchestra ably. All in all, it’s an impressive production from Wilkenfeld’s company.