In the words of Maria, the hills are most definitely alive with the gorgeous sound of the stars of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington’s production of Von Trapped– a hilarious parody of the iconic 1959 musical The Sound of Music with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.
A musical of this caliber, enjoying healthy runs on Broadway and the West End as well as the 1965 Oscar-winning Best Picture film musical starring Julie Andrews and the 2013 televised production starring Carrie Underwood, hardly needs an introduction. As a musical that has earned a place rightfully on the mantle of show tune standards and notoriety in some circles, Artistic Director Jeff Buhrman and Executive Director Chase Maggiano exploit our wildest imaginations and have masterfully coached an all-male ensemble to deliver a comedic performance that pushes this Tony Award-winning musical to the boundaries of our imagination.
The all-male cast does not disappoint. Opening with the iconic “Morning Hymn/Alleluia” performed by Mother Abbess (Montario Hill) and Sisters (Ray Jay Garcia, Justin Bank, Bill Cutter, Michelangelo Longario, L. Owen Taggart, Greg Plavcan, and Rick Yarborough), the opening number showcased how, while intentionally comedic, this musical parody would take its musical responsibility to deliver a performance that was not only funny, but also of musical quality. With a full chorus of 62 “nuns” set as the backdrop for the opening scene, what’s immediately clear is the richness and the power of the full chorus. With several of the nuns boasting everything from Marge Simpson-style hair to a bucket of fried chicken as props, it was quite the ridiculous sight.
Dressed in a pink skirt, Maria (Cooper Westbrook) then makes her appearance, singing the title song of the show while frolicking about a beautiful, lush mountainous backdrop (rented from Kenmark and Grosh).Westbrook has a stage presence that grounds the lighthearted performance in a state of suspended reality, allowing us to immerse ourselves in the imagination of the artistic team. Elevated by the elaborate backgrounds done by the construction team, Westbrook seamlessly connects each plot point in an otherwise ludicrous musical with grace and poise.
The remainder of the performance follows the plot loosely, but hits all the major songs of the show that audiences will remember and with which audiences can identify.
One of the highlights of the evening was Maria and the Children: James Stillwell (Liesl), Joel Wallace (Friedrich), Mitch Menchaca (Louisa), Mario Sengco (Brigita), Stuart Goldstone (Kurt), Sidney Jonathan Jowers (Marta), and Marcus Brown (Gretl) performing the iconic number “My Favorite Things.” With “Ryan Gosling” named as one of everyone’s favorite things, the number was a hit with many members of the audience singing along.
The number followed with Liesl (James Stillwell) delivering a scintillating performance of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” a parody in which an over-the-top Liesl—dressed in a silky Japanese Kimono—must pick between four suitors. I’m sure this isn’t what Rodgers and Hammerstein had imagined.
The first act closed with “Do Re Mi”—a piece in which we really get to experience the joy of a live orchestra. With piano (Alex Tang), synthesizer (Jonathan Tuzman), bass (Mary Scott), and percussion (Logan Seith and Maurice Watkins), the live orchestra accompanied the chorus in mellifluous harmony—striking a perfect balance with the chorus without becoming overpowering.
The second act opened with a hilarious rendition of “Do Re Mi,” featuring the youngest Von Trapp child, Gretl (Marcus Brown), singing a soulful medley of Michael Jackson’s “ABC” and “Do Re Mi,” causing the audience to erupt in raucous laughter. Dressed in an entire curtain pole (alluding to how Maria made children’s clothing out of curtains), Brown lead the audience in this soulful scene-stealing number. This was definitely one of the musical masterpieces of the night.
Act II also featured an interpretation of “The Lonely Goatherd” done in dance with Michael “Cabbie” Caban, Alon Mazor, Ivan Davila, Clint Novotny, Harron Elloso, and Ray Jay Garcia to a rapping—yes, I said rapping—chorus. Needless to say, words escape me. You will have to check out the show yourself to see what I’m truly talking about.
Captain Von Trapp (Lonny Smith) dazzled the audience with his “Edelweiss”—one of the few songs performed throughout the evening that is taken almost entirely without parody from the original production. Smith’s voice perfectly captured the sense of solemnity in the piece, and was one of the more tender, memorable moments of the evening.
The evening concluded with “So Long, Farewell,” in which each member of the Von Trapp family received resounding applause after his (or her?) solo. As an encore, the entire cast performed “Climb Every Mountain/You’ll Never Walk Alone”—a stunning exclamation mark on an already exciting evening of musical parody.
Running Time: Two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
Von Trapped plays two more performances Tonight-Saturday, March 15, 2014 at 8pm and Tomorrow, Sunday, March 16th at 3 pm at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium — 730 21st Street NW, in Washington, DC. Tickets can be purchased online or at the box office.