“The Sound of Music” recently delighted audiences at Catholic University of America’s Hartke Theatre in a production directed superbly by Tracy Lynn Oliviera. Students from the university’s well-regarded musical theatre program, as well as a live orchestra, succeeded in calling to mind the wildly popular Hollywood film. It also reminded audiences that the Broadway production performed here contained a number of interesting differences to the well-known Hollywood version.
…’It was so magical to experience the songs we know so well from the film and performed to perfection by a full, live orchestra.’
In the beloved story based on real-life events, Maria—an unconventional convent girl with a spontaneous urge to create music, dance, and roam the Austrian mountainside—is tested when her Mother Superior tells her she may not be prepared to become a part of convent life. Maria is required to leave the convent to become a governess for a family of seven children. She arrives at this unique Von Trapp household to find it run by a widowed, retired naval captain who treats his own family and servants like the crew of a ship. Though many governesses resign after the disobedient children’s many pranks, Maria quickly wins their affection and favor. The postulant-turned-governess becomes so dear as to fill the place that their mother once did for the children. She also brings back singing and the playing of music back to this once-musical household. At the same time, Maria and Captain Von Trapp have begun to fall in love.
The performers were outstanding. Emma Markey made a wonderful Maria, exuding charm, rebelliousness, and love. She sang the titular song “The Sound of Music” poignantly, but arguably the most memorable was an exquisite and playful version of “The Lonely Goatherd.” Actor Ben Campion captures the Captain’s transformation remarkably well, from a disciplined and dictatorial character to a more humane person not afraid to show affection. These changes in his personality are illustrated musically by Mr. Campion in “Something Good” and “Edelweiss.”
An opposite transformation is displayed by Rolf (portrayed well by Gabriel Blank), the love interest of Liesl (Alexandra Lopez), the oldest of the Von Trapp children. He changes from a teenage in love to a heartless young Nazi, although (unlike in the film version) he shows a softer side towards the end of the story. He and Ms. Lopez duet wonderfully in “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.”
One of the pleasures of the production is when certain moments met the expectations of audience members wishing to see their favorite scenes from the film performed live—for example, when Mother Abbess (Olivia Buckley) and the nuns sing “How Do you Solve a Problem Like Maria?” in beautiful harmony. It also included times when it showed how the Broadway production differed from the film. Songs were often in a different order from the movie. Elsa and the Captain break up not due to Maria, but political differences and new songs are heard here. “How Can Love Survive,” a memorable tune that was cut from the movie, was sung beautifully by Max (a humorous Ethan Turbyfill), Elsa (an earnest Emma Hanks), and Captain von Trapp who is bemused by the swift political changes as the Nazis prepare to annex Austria. Frightening political events bring Captain Von Trapp, Maria, and the children closer, a true testament to the human heart’s ability to persevere even in the face of tremendous hardship.
The costumes by Channing Tucker were well done, suggesting the 1930s. The props, by scenic designer Samina Vieth, were highly effective in representing wealthy interiors and pleasant gardens. Ever present was an enormous background painting of the mountains and trees, suggesting landscape paintings such as those by German Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich. The orchestra was directed (according to which performance) by Marc Bryan Lilley, Faith Foster, and Noel Nascinmento. As one audience member pointed out, “It was so magical to experience the songs we know so well from the film and performed to perfection by a full, live orchestra.”
Running Time: Approximately three hours including a 20-minute intermission.
“The Sound of Music” ran November 10 – 18, 2023 at The Catholic University of America’s Hartke Theatre, 3801 Harewood Rd NE, Washington, DC 20017. For more information on upcoming productions at The Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art , please go online.