Review: Georgetown Palace’s The Sound of Music

Production captures the core of an old-fashioned musical

Cassidy Thompson as Maria, with the children Von Trapp in Georgetown Palace Theatre’s The Sound of Music (photo by Andy Sharp)

It’s been a year since Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s last and arguably most popular musical – the one about Maria, a young Austrian postulant who in 1938 is sent to the villa of retired naval officer and widower Captain Georg von Trapp to be governess to his seven children – was offered to Austin-area audiences.

In that staging of The Sound of Music, Zach Theatre director Dave Steakley went rogue by tweaking the classic work and adding a few of his favorite things.

There was color-blind casting for the kids in drape jumpers.
And ersatz young Nazis were costumed as Trumpers.
Scenic design was not nearly Alpine.
These were a few of the things you would find.

An onstage biergarten was an odd innovation.
Actors with instruments offered full orchestration.
A sprightly Maria half Von Trapp’s middle age.
These things were enough to make traditionalists rage.

With those traditionalists in mind, the folks at Georgetown Palace Theatre have gone the more conventional, less provocative route in their current production.

Here, worshipful director Tracy Arnold treats the 1959 Broadway musical – which won five Tony Awards – as sacred ground. Scenic designer Chase Staggs’ use of huge scenery against a hand-painted backdrop of the Alps has an old-school look and feel, which is nicely accentuated by Cheyenne Nash’s dramatic lighting and complemented by Erin Pena’s character-defining costuming. Coupled with a professionally performed prerecorded soundtrack that can’t fluctuate in tone or tempo, and charming choreography by Evelyn Joy Hoelscher that offers neither surprises nor disappointments, the entire production is pretty much paint-by-number. And all the coloring stays neatly inside the lines.

The result is an evocatively familiar, pleasingly comfortable evening’s entertainment. Those familiar with the 1965 film version starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer will find some differences in this production, which sticks to the original Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse libretto. The most glaring difference is that the two parasitic houseguests at the Von Trapp estate get back two songs, “How Can Love Survive?” and “No Way to Stop It.” These are mediocre songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein standards that reveal these characters’ self-serving intentions and questionable political leanings and require some fine singing and acting to make palpable. A terrific Olivia Christie as Elsa Schraeder delivers, while an underachieving Lou Taylor-Castro as Max Detweiler does not.

Music director David Blackburn is blessed with an abundance of talent in general, and the talents of Cassidy Thompson in particular. Her Maria is every bit the “will-o’-the-wisp” the sisters at the Nonnberg Abbey claim she is, and Thompson is in possession of the kind of voice made for The Sound of Music’s title song and the romantic duet “Something Good,” which is shared with Creighton Moench as the Von Trapp patriarch. Moench’s remarkable voice – rich and robust – makes it easy to overlook the trouble he has bringing to life the underwritten dialogue he’s been handed, which too quickly transforms his character from a strict and disconnected father to an engaged family man and adoring fiancé. He seems awkward in his own skin throughout most of the production, as do most who take on this role.

This production also boasts very capable kids playing Von Trapp kinder, which, on the evening of my attendance, included understudy Luiciana Marinari as Leisl, understudy Emily Jackson as Louisa, Sean Condon as Friedrich, Jordyn Bauer as Brigitta, William Reeves as Kurt, understudy Molly Jackson as Marta, and Ellie Jackson as Gretl.

Marinari is particularly delightful in “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” with David Dech as love interest Rolf nearly stealing the number with his gorgeous tenor and charming demeanor. Bauer, who turns in an astoundingly authentic portrayal as the middle Von Trapp daughter Brigitta, nearly steals the show.

One of the highlights of this production is the ensemble of nuns – Jennifer Tucker, Lisa Keating, Julia Chapman, Jamila Coker, Becca Fajardo, Elsa Lindstrom, Andrea Littlefield, and Echo Pillittere – who produce angelic harmonies that rattle the theatre’s rafters. Tucker’s endearing portrayal of Mother Abbess and her stirring rendition of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” make it hard to believe she is understudying the role.

For theatregoers of a certain age, this Georgetown Palace Theatre production is not to be missed. For those whose tastes gravitate to something more radical, consider this show a valuable crash course in the golden age of musicals.

Georgetown Palace Theatre’s The Sound of Music
810 S. Austin Ave., Georgetown, 512/869-7469
Through Sept. 17
Running time: 2 hrs., 30 min.

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The Sound of Music, Georgetown Palace Theatre, Tracy Arnold, David Blackburn, Cassidy Thompson, Chase Staggs, Cheyenne Nash, Erin Pena, Evelyn Joy Hoelscher, Olivia Christie, Creighton Moench

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