Pittsburgh CLO offers a superbly sung, good looking and convincing production of The Sound of Music Rodgers and Hammerstein’s final collaboration. Although you may think you know this classic, the songs, the story, you could be surprised by its virtues. And this performance, directed by James Brennan, honors the concept, never pushing the sentimentality nor overdoing the more obvious elements.
The story is a sketchy re-working of a true one. Maria Rainer, at first a postulant at an abbey near Salzburg, Austria, becomes a governess for the seven children of widowed Captain Georg von Trapp, a celebrated navel hero of World War I. While at first very severe, he loses some of his edge when the children’s virtues become more apparent under Maria’s guidance, He plans to marry a Viennese woman, Elsa Schraeder, more to provide stability to his family than out of love. But, in fact he and Maria fall in love and marry. Meanwhile The Captain opposes the takeover of Austria by the Third Reich, Eventually the family finds a way to escape.
Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse’s book has some excellent elements, for example implying that the Captain’s initial edginess may be due to having lost his wife. Moreover they have given the Mother Abbess human wisdom and have evoked dark drama in the threats of Nazism.
The musical begins with sounds of wonderful simplicity, lovely a cappella singing by the nuns, followed by swift sung depictions of Maria’s basic character. The story moves along quite well for a while before detouring into some attractive but gratuitous songs. By now those songs have become so familiar that they are easy to appreciate even if superfluous.
Rodgers created lovely and charming melodies while Hammerstein regularly came up with good meaningful lyrics. “My Favorite Things,” I find one of their best. Also in this production “Climb Every Mountain” becomes really moving, due to compelling singing by Lisa Howard as the Mother Abbess. Note especially, too, the song “Edelweiss” as if the elemental beauty of the mountain flower has symbolic meaning.
Howard’s performance is among many which have integrity without being overdone including Robert Cuccioli’s interpretation of the Captain. He finds multiple dimensions and when he finally smiles, his genuine warmth lights up the stage. Jennifer Hope Wills’s Maria doesn’t have equal depth; she seems charmingly innocent at first but doesn’t emerge with any more character. However, she sings beautifully, flawlessly.
The children are all played by local performers. North Hills High School grad Kirsten Hoover as the oldest daughter Liesl comes across with as much polish and personality as any of the professionals. And, as you would expect, the youngest child, seven year old Madeline Dick steals the show just by being adorably tiny and a performer as skilled as anyone else on stage.
The cast includes Pittsburgh’s Terry Wickline, Gene Saraceni and Joe Jackson in minor supporting roles plus other local well-knowns Maria Becoates-Bey, Michael Campayno and Christine Laitta in the ensemble.
Rodgers, Hammerstein, Lindsay and Crouse created something quite good, even if sometimes formulaic. Pittsburgh CLO makes the best of it work on every level.
The Sound of Music continues through July 31st at Benedum Center, downtown.
412/456-6666 or pittsburghclo.org