“Bright Copper Kettles”—
“Warm woolen mittens and crisp apple strudel, doorbells, and sleigh bells, and schnitzel with noodles; brown paper packages tied up with string…” where can you find all these wonderful things?
Well, for bright copper kettles, you could probably traverse to Bed Bath and Beyond. For some nice warm woolen mittens, you could most likely skate on over to Eastern Mountain Sports (though they probably make them more nowadays with spandex, lycra and a polyurethane foam of some sort for most optimal heat entrapment and minimal itch). For crisp apple strudel I’m thinking it could be a mere hop, skip, and a jump over to West L.A.’s Apple Pan.
Door bells?—Home Depot.
Sleigh bells?—World Market
Shnitzel with noodles…? Nobody knows where to get that…unless you pick up a brown paper package from UPS mailed from Austria. Wielded by a handsome brown shorted employee, one might imagine to be named Hans or Dieter, you could even envision said shorts as lederhosen for more classic authenticity. If it would help–that is…
Put all the above things together however in a song involving an Austrian Ex-Novice/Nanny and her seven adorable charges, throw in a few extra Rodgers and Hammerstein jams, an oppressive Nazi or two (as opposed to the open-minded permissive ones), and you’ve got the musical to beat all musicals in the form of The Sound of Music which can be found at the Ahmanson theatre until Halloween night October 31st!
To witness the standard story of girl-loses-noviceship; meets and garners captain and seven children, captain and seven children lose girl, then gain her back, only to lose baroness, with the penultimate threat of losing the now, new family of nine to the Nazis, this Jack O’Brien directed production fits precisely the Playbill!
As the lights dim, the pre-performance announcement would not be complete without the steady instruction of none other than the Mother Abbess, “Sorry to interrupt you. This is the Mother Abbess. Church and state may be separate, but church and theatre are not. So please put all cell phones away and don’t make me come out there!”
Set in the beautiful Austrian Alps (as if anybody doesn’t know this already and might surmise it took place in a gay karaoke bar in Cleveland) The almost fluorescent alps themselves beckon at curtains’ rise to transient pinks and blues the hues of which are nearly reminiscent of the fake coral castle I had in my very first fish tank circa 1979 (bao chikka chikka bao bao!)
The Hills are Alive, sung most mellifluously by the star of our spectacle, Kirsten Anderson, in the role of Maria Rainer (in case anyone was wondering—and who knew she had a last name…well MAIDEN name?—Maria that is…but bereft of a Playbill each and every instance of said musical’s erstwhile viewing how were we ever to know?) is doubly impressive when one notes, upon perusing the program, that she has only just completed her sophomore year at PACE University!
The second location in question encompasses the quarters of the Mother Abbess, sung and performed most impressively by a relatively youthful Ashley Brown. Pertaining to the related set, one can’t help but feel touched by some sort of dramatic deity upon focusing on the most prismatic, and halo-clad stained glass window high above her desk. From here on out sets slide on and off the stage like silken multi-layered vapors and we are mesmerized no end not only by this fluidity but the performances given in front of this so as to distract us from the not-so-distracting changing of the guards. The ultimate aspect of hypnotism: The glory of each and every location said backdrops designed by Douglas W. Schmidt transport us.
The remainder of the cast and any and all related production value are all exceedingly stellar and one of the things I loved most about this production, is that the children really looked like children—honest to goodness real-life children!
Primarily of note: Little Audrey Bennett as an adorable, able-voiced and occasionally whiney Gretl. Less Hollywood-star-child and more true to the real world, Bennett endears us no end meshing all positive and more challenging aspects of childhood in one. It is, to say the least, refreshing as I must confess, the Hollywood style Von Trapp Children look, not only too old in certain instances but a little less-than-organic and more-than-well-rehearsed.
To add to the above sentiment, Paige Silvester (looking a trifle bit like Sarah Hyland of Modern Family fame from a distance) makes the perfect, petit and poised Liesl. And paradoxically enough, is already a college graduate; ironic indeed when one considers her step-mother-in-casting is merely a graduated college sophomore.
Oh and don’t even get me started on a spirited Svea Johnson as the feisty, blonde and bespectacled Brigitta! In the live musical version the fifth Von Trapp child is quite the know-it-all, but rightly so, with wisdom far beyond her years but a candor that is totally age appropriate. It is Brigitta who is rendered the catalyst for paternal/postulant matchmaking the likes of which the baroness (as written in the stage version) could ever hope to achieve!
Speaking of the baroness she is played elegantly and somewhat distantly but likeably (aside from her preoccupation with Nazi occupation) by Teri Hansen.
Quinn Erickson is just fun and buoyant as Kurt—“Kurt the Flirt” in the stage version the likes of which I never remembered of the film. And you can bet if Brigitta hadn’t noticed a potential match betwixt the sea captain and governess first Kurt would have been soon in following but would no doubt have asked Maria to wait for him rather than pointing out his father’s fanatical besottedness.
Ben Davis, a seasoned stage and television performer alike, is both severe and sincere as the stately Captain Georg Von Trapp. As mentioned above, but worth noting a second time, Kerstin Anderson as Maria is clear voiced, endearing and resolute!
Last but not least, Merwin Foard as the eccentric and dogged Uncle Max is nothing short of genius. With a completely differing, yet suitable, take on the character than I’ve ever witnessed, not only do I nearly forget every other related character study I’ve seen, but he truly makes the character all his own.
Costumes designed by Jane Greenwood are stunning to spot on. Lighting Design by Natasha Katz is ethereal to earthly, and direction by Jack O’Brien is stupendously seamless.
The entire production is a major undertaking and surprisingly–yet not unexpectedly–enough, most major characters have about 2 to 3 understudies alone!
The Sound of Music runs at the Ahmanson until October 31st.
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