The Sound of Music: Maria Connects but tempered voices are tedious

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

If you’re a nun suffering from insomnia, just book a berth in the cavernous abbey depicted in this production of The Sound of Music. The place is so immensely boring, so circumscribed by tempered voices and looming, dark spaces, that you’ll be snoozing in seconds.

In fact, one suspects that the real reason Maria abandons a career in a wimple for life with the von Trapps is to avoid death by tedium.

You already know the storyline of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s famous musical — Maria Rainer, a postulant at an Austrian abbey in the dark days of the advancing Third Reich, takes a temporary job as a governess with the von Trapp family, falls in love with the adorable but emotionally undernourished children and their rule-loving widower father Captain Georg von Trapp, teaches them all to sing again, marries the captain, and flees the Nazis with her new family.

Directed by Jack O’Brien, this production gets much of the outside world and Maria right, but not the abbey. It’s a combination of some strong voices (especially that of Kerstin Anderson, who plays a likably gawky Maria) and an endearing flock of children with an overly stagy and self-conscious interpretation of the story.

The musical, later a hit film starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, debuted in 1959 and has remained popular ever since, thanks to its rich music and inspiring, true life-based tale of love, family and principle. The fresh, fun production by NAC English Theatre in 2013 underscored that enduring appeal by selling more tickets than any NAC-programmed show ever.

This production is not of that calibre, despite the audience’s enthusiastic response on opening night. Maria’s big musical numbers connect, especially Do-Re-Mi in Act One. That’s the song that sweeps the von Trapp youngsters, who have lived without singing since the death of their mother, back into the life-affirming world of music. Watching them pulled slowly but inexorably into the joy of Maria’s voice is a delight, as is the orchestra’s sprightly accompaniment under conductor Jay Alger.

Climb Ev’ry Mountain, on the other hand, is more likely to make you want to swap your hiking boots for a good book. Sung by The Mother Abbess (Melody Betts) to inspire in Maria determination and self-confidence, it ends with mountaintop vocal thunder but is, at its core, far more style than substance.

Ben Davis as Captain von Trapp is stolid with an appropriately soft heart under his strict military exterior. The moment when he reconnects with his brood of kids is genuinely moving, as is his defiant rendition of Edelweiss near the end of the show.

However, Merwin Foard as the impresario Max may sing handsomely but gives us a character insufficiently compromised when confronted with Nazi power. And Elsa Schraeder, as played by Teri Hansen, is more cardboard cutout than flesh-and-blood woman as she worms her way into the captain’s heart and then back out again when Maria shows up.

Bottom line: Love survives despite a production that’s not among our favourite things. Continues until April 17. Tickets: NAC box office, 1-888-991-2787, ticketmaster.ca, nac-cna.ca


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