Review: ‘The Sound of Music’ at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia

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While there are amazing new Broadway hits like Hamilton and Fun Home, some things are classic for a reason. And may I say, they just don’t make musicals like The Sound of Music anymore. Celebrating the film’s 50th Anniversary earlier this month, the Tony, Grammy, and Academy Award winner Jack O’Brien (Hairspray, The Full Monty) brings Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic, The Sound of Music, to life in a new and invigorating way.

Photo courtesy of 'Sound of Music' National Tour.
The children. Photo by Matthew Murray.

This Tony, Grammy, and Academy Award winning Best Score features classics such as “My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi,” “Edelweiss,” and, of course, “The Sound of Music.”

O’Brien masters the innumerable amount of moving parts of this enormous show. From the lighting, costume, and scenic design to choreography and music, you can see O’Brien’s personal vision throughout; he has refined this show to perfect harmony.

The young Kerstin Anderson is charming as can be as leading lady Maria Rainer. Her charisma, love, and immense talent is the light in this dark World War II Austria. I could not take my eyes off of her any time she was on the stage. Maria’s first number is the title song: she was alone onstage with a backdrop of a mountain and a small bridge, but the stage felt so full and warm from her amazing presence.

Her onstage romance with Captain Georg von Trapp (Ben Davis) is one of the most heartwarming love stories in theater history. Working in tandem, Davis and O’Brien clearly articulate the Captain’s journey from a simple, closed off military man to a warm, loving father and husband. Watching him swallow his pride for his family’s safety during Act II was astonishing.

The von Trapp children are just as talented as the adults. Gretl (Audrey Bennett) got an audible “awwww” from the audience anytime she spoke or sang, and rightfully so. Jeremy Michael Lanuti (Friedrich), Maria Suzanne Knasel (Louisa), Quinn Erickson (Kurt), Svea Elizabeth Johnson (Brigitta), and Mackenzie Currie (Marta) are a talented bunch of kids, way beyond their years.

Paige Sylvester (Leisl) deserves special note as the oldest of the von Trapp family. Her and Dan Tracy (Rolf) as the young star-crossed lovers exude beautiful chemistry in the well-known duet “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” sung and danced beautifully by the pair.

While oftentimes when one thinks about The Sound of Music, you only think about the von Trapp family and children. While they lived up to the hype, the nuns of Nonnberg Abbey were equally incredible. Mother Abbess (Melody Betts) stole the show, opening and closing the first act. Betts’ strength as the Reverend Mother is irreparable, and her performance of “Climb Every Mountain” brought me to tears. In conjunction with a few of the other nuns (Carey Rebecca Brown, Julia Osborne, Elisabeth Evans), “Maria” was brought to life with exuberance and humor.

Max Detweiler (Merwin Ford) and Elsa Schrader (Teri Hansen) delight as the foils to Maria and the Captain in all things. Max’s one-liners are delightfully schticky, but the two enchant with songs excluded from the movie, “How Can Love Survive?” and “No Way To Stop It”.

The cast also includes Darren Matthias (Franz), Donna Garner (Frau Schmidt), Andrea Ross (Ursula/New Postulant), Brent Schindele (Herr Zeller), Ronald L. Brown (Baron Elberfeld), Kelly McCormick (Baroness Elberfeld), and Christopher Carl (Admiral von Schreiber).

The full ensemble is rounded out by Cáitlïn Burke, Christopher Carl, Patton Chandler, Donna Garner, Jenavene Hester, Brent Schindele, Jim Schubin, Daniella Dalli, Meaghan Hales, and Adam Hill.

Music director and conductor Jay Alger was flawless, guiding his 16 piece orchestra effortlessly through this famous music.

Ben Davis (Captain von Trapp), Kerstin Anderson (Maria), and the von Trapp Children. Photo by Matthew Murray.
Ben Davis (Captain von Trapp), Kerstin Anderson (Maria), and the von Trapp Children. Photo by Matthew Murray.

Scenic design by Tony Nominated Douglas W. Schmitt is so intricate and specific. The white lace panels are smartly reconstituted in different configurations, locations, and lighting. Backdrop after backdrop wow with vibrant colors and the next location is always a stunning as the last.

Recipient of the 2014 Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre, Jane Greenwood sets the stage with perfectly period costumes. The silhouettes, colors, and looks directly represent the characters and their place in this high-stakes world full of literal love and war.

The lighting design by Tony Award Winner Natasha Katz (Tony wins including An American In Paris, The Glass Menagerie, Once, and Aida), Katz does not disappoint in this picturesque world. With a stunning opening stained glass window to lightning effects and beautiful outdoor scenes, Katz truly completes these perfect stage pictures.

The Sound of Music is only here through the end of the week, and it is a must see before the von Trapps say “Auf Wiedersehen.”

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

The Sound of Music is playing through this Sunday, March 20, 2016 as a part of the Broadway Philadelphia series at The Academy of Music – 240 South Broad Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 838-1999, or purchase them online.

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