Annapolis is alive with the sound of singing nuns and cheerful children as Compass Rose Theater starts their 2013/2014 season with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music. Directed by Lucinda Merry-Browne with Musical Direction by Anita O’Connor, this classic musical will bring light into your life, a song into your heart and is sure to put a smile on your face as you follow along with the von Trapp family. It’s a splendid family musical for all ages with a little something for everyone, and it’s the perfect way for Compass Rose Theater to start their new season.
One might think that presenting such a grandiose musical in such a small space would prove challenging, but not only does Set Designer Joe Powell overcome these challenges with ease – he brings the audience right into the thick of the action. Building a very simplistic yet impressive staircase to create a two-tiered set on the stage, Powell creates vertical depth when the space would otherwise be lacking. This allows for the von Trapp children to be spread out during numbers like “So Long, Farewell” and really be noticed individually. Making use of the main house aisle as well as every bit of space below the staircase and platform, the stage never feels cramped or small but rather intimate allowing for a much closer look into these characters’ lives.
Costume Designer Julie Bays should be commended for her period appropriate work, again keeping the majority of the design work simple. From the humble habits to the crisp uniform of the Nazi soldiers, Bays maintains a fairly accurate portrayal of Austria in 1938. It’s in the outfits of the children and Maria where her creative spark is allowed to shine, mostly in her selection of colors. The dresses for the party include a lovely array of pastels fitted in gossamer fabrics with lace and Maria’s wedding dress is elegant yet stunning with its full sleeves and full frontal collar.
It wouldn’t be quite such timeless classic without all of the harmonious singing and Musical Director Anita O’Connor blends vocal talents to often achieve the perfect sound. Choosing a lone pianist to carry out all of the orchestrations is a bold and unique choice that really suits the production. Accompanist Erika Knepp, under O’Connor’s direction, provides a brilliant musical underscoring for the songs, balancing a rare juxtaposition of melodious accompaniment and moments of Acapella singing. Together O’Connor and Knepp prove to the audience that this show is in fact alive with the sound of music.
No voice is too small in this production, particularly not those of the children. With surprisingly flawless intonation for the larger group numbers like “So Long, Farewell,” and “Do-Re-Mi” the children’s chorus of seven strong is heard crisply and cleanly with precision in their singing diction. Sophia Nasreen Riazi-Sekowski, playing the youngest of the von Trapp’s has a delicate little solo feature in “So Long, Farewell” that is rather precious, and yet still completely audible.
The older of the children, Liesl (Mariel White) and Rolf (A.J. Whittenberger) though Rolf is not actually a von Trapp family child, make beautiful music together. When White and Whittenberger’s voices join for “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” the sprightly chemistry between them floats merrily in their air and their combined sound is a blissful series of intricate harmonies. Their voices gel with a childlike innocence of puppy love, making the song that much sweeter.
While not necessarily comic relief, the roles of Max (Daniel Seifring) and Elsa (Jamie Odgen) do provide some chuckles for the audience. Both Seifring and Odgen play the characters in a muted fashion with a shallow and surface approach, but what they lack in character depth they make up for with their enthusiastic singing in numbers like “No Way To Stop It.”
There is something to be said for a holy sound coming from a chorus of nuns and this sound is achieved with serenity during the “Preludium” at the top of the show by the four sisters of the Nonnberg Abbey. Sister Berthe (Maggie Leigh Walker) and Sister Sophia (Rebecca Dreyfuss) have superior voices that ring out with crystal clarity during “Maria.” Sister Margaretta (Lynn Garretson) struggles with the upper range a little but blends so sublimely during the larger group numbers.The Mother Abbess (Jill Sharpe Compton) has the proper, albeit severe, attitude for the role, and at wavers in places with her intonation, mostly just during long sustained notes like at the end of the exceedingly difficult “Climb Every Mountain.” But Compton is a splendid addition to the duet “My Favorite Things” singing joyously along with Maria in this iconic tune.
The head of the von Trapp family, the captain himself is played by Andre Softeland. Taking this masterful role and simplifying it in the manner that he does is rather breathtaking because Softeland exposes the more basic wants and needs of the rigid character. From his rigid upright posture to his clipped vocal responses, Softeland creates a militant image of a man who will not bend, so that when transformation does sweep over him during “The Sound of Music: Reprise” it is that much more startling. His voice is a rich and melodious sound that carries a serene, albeit emotionally detached, rendition of “Edelweiss.” And he creates perfect harmony with Maria (Katie Keyser) for their duet “An Ordinary Couple.”
Katie Keyser, as the lead in the production, is a bright spirit whose voice is awash with a drop of golden sun. Her voice is inspired by the magnitude of the mountains about which she so fondly sings and right from the beginning of the show her energy is contagious. Bursting with happiness in her heart she gives a stunning rendition of “The Sound of Music” the show’s iconic title number, joy radiating off her in waves. When singing “My Favorite Things” (at several different intervals throughout the show) she draws out the imagery in this song with smooth fluidity and great detail creating stunning vocal portraits for all to hear and visualize. Balancing the sheer beauty of her voice against the fun and carefree attitude she keeps with the children, numbers like “Do-Re-Mi” become a vivacious and fun time for all. Keyser is truly gifted, a well rounded performer with a mastery of musical performance as well as character depth.
The hills will be alive with The Sound of Music through the beginning of November, and this is one production you won’t want to miss out on, so be sure to head down to Compass Rose Theater and catch the von Trapp family before they make their great escape away into the mountains.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.