The Sound of Music
Music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse
Directed and Choreographed by Samn Huffer
Produced by Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia
Reviewed by Steven McKnight
If you only know The Sound of Music from the popular 1965 film, a real treat awaits you with the new production of the Tony® Award winning musical at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia. Director/Choreographer Samn Huffer and the talented Toby’s cast and crew manage to “Climb Every Mountain” in making this musical come alive in an intimate setting that will touch the heart of every audience member.
Local productions of this wonderful work (the last Rodgers & Hammerstein collaboration) are far rarer than they should be. I have a couple of theories on why this scarcity exists. First, as Artistic Director Toby Orenstein admits, “The movie can be intimidating.” Anyone familiar with the history of Toby’s Dinner Theatre, though, knows that this company never shirks from a challenge.
Their first challenge was finding the right Maria. The audience must fall in love with her right from the start. Jessica Ball rises to the challenge with a winning performance that radiates warmth and charm. From the first moment when she appears beautifully lit while perched high in the air with her beloved Alps behind her, she appears positively angelic with a smile that never wavers as she sings the title tune.
Ms. Ball is a totally convincing Maria. With every song, every line, and every movement she conveys the character’s feelings in a credible and compelling manner. Not only is she effective in the moment, but also she produces a nice character arc of dawning emotional realizations and growing maturity.
Ms. Ball not only has a lovely singing voice, but also a wonderfully expressive face that makes each number enjoyable. She even took “The Lonely Goatherd,” one of my least favorite musical numbers from the show, and made it one of the evening’s highlights with her comic yodeling and vocal inflections, as well as funny faces that prompted spontaneous audience laughter.
Ms. Ball and the rest of the cast accomplish the most important goal of musical theatre – synthesizing the acting and the music. Under the guidance of Samn Huffer, the cast “acts the songs” as effectively as any top-notch Broadway cast.
Finding an actor who can make the pivotal role of the stern Captain Georg von Trapp work is no small challenge. David Bosely-Reynolds gives an outstanding performance as the Captain. He lets the ice melt just enough and at just the right moments to make his growing romance with Maria both believable and touching. When he and Maria dance for the first time, their unspoken attachment is undeniable. He also has a beautiful singing voice.
In fact, the singing is universally excellent throughout the show. The songs performed by the Mother Abbess (Lynn Sharp Spears), either alone or with the other members of Nonnberg Abbey, are beautiful enough to give one chills. It is worth listening to Joel Markowitz’s podcast from the show to hear some brief a cappella excerpts. Listen here
Debra Buonaccorsi is pitch perfect (both acting and singing) as Elsa Schrader, Maria’s aristocratic competition for the Captain’s heart. Andrew Horn has great fun with the role of Max Detweiler, the genial and self-serving government bureaucrat. Then, of course, there are the children.
My second theory on why The Sound of Music is not performed more often is the difficulty of assembling a talented cast of child actors. Fortunately, Toby Orenstein has an excellent knowledge of the region’s talented young theatre performers, many of whom have attended her acting camps or appeared in prior productions at Toby’s.
While Toby’s will be using a rotating cast of young actors to fill the children’s roles, the group that I saw was thoroughly impressive. To achieve their rapport with the other actors, to handle the choreography and blocking, and to accomplish the vocal blending and harmonies of the Von Trapp Family musical numbers obviously required a talented group and much hard work. Credit must also be given to Musical Director Reenie Codelka.
While I am reluctant to single out individuals since the whole family worked together well, Gabriella DeLuca is a lovely Liesl, Rachel Petti is a charismatic Louisa, and Bailey Gabrish, a nine-year-old scene stealer, makes the most of the role of Brigitta. All of the child actors, however, were highly capable and vocally talented.
Speaking of children, I have rarely seen a performance of a Broadway musical that appealed so much to the children in the audience. They were thoroughly enraptured, many were seeking autographs or dancing on stage during intermission, and almost all were still enthusiastic at the evening’s end. The Sound of Music is ideal family entertainment.
Finally, all of the technical aspects of the production were thoroughly professional. The lighting design in particular was highly effective at emphasizing key emotional beats in the story while also facilitating the seamless scene changes that are a Toby’s trademark. Huffer also served as Costume Designer and provided simple yet appropriate costumes that ably supported the characters and the story.
If you have ever loved The Sound of Music then this production of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic is one that you should not miss. If you want to share your love of musical theatre with a child, you have the perfect opportunity
Running Time: 2:30 with 1 long intermission
When: Now thru Feb. 17, 2008
Where: Toby’s Dinner Theatre, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, MD
Tickets: Adults: $44 – $49, Children $30 – $49. Includes a lavish dinner or Sunday brunch.
Info: Visit the theatre’s box office, call (301) 596-6161, or visit their website