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With minor alterations, 'The Sound of Music' becomes 'a great piece of storytelling' at Hale Centre Theatre

By Blair Howell

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, June 2 2012 2:00 p.m. MDT

Cecily Ellis-Bills as the postulant Maria and Mark Knowles as Captain Georg von Trapp in the Hale Centre Theatre's production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic “The Sound of Music,” June 6 through Aug. 4.

Hale Centre Theatre

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WEST VALLEY CITY — At its 1959 Broadway opening, “The Sound of Music,” which featured Mary Martin at the height of her enormous popularity as a musical theater star, was not initially as universally embraced as the 1965 Julie Andrews-Christopher Plummer film adaptation.

The New York Times review called the libretto to the stage musical “hackneyed,” with reviewer Brooks Atkinson writing, “It is disappointing to see the American musical stage succumbing to the clichÉs of operetta.” The New York Herald Tribune assessment was just as unfavorable: The play "becomes not only too sweet for words but almost too sweet for music," according to the review.

"Autsch," as German-speaking Austrians would say (or for English speakers, "Ouch!").

“The stage version is radically different than the film” says Chris Clark, who directs “The Sound of Music” at Hale Centre Theatre. “Things happen in different places. There are songs that don’t exist at all.”

When comparing the two versions, observers contend that the movie focuses too heavily on the young postulant Maria and the romance of Maria and Captain von Trapp and her relationship with his seven troublesome children — so much so that the dramatic element of the Nazi occupation of Austria is lost.

Recognizing some of the inherent problems in the script of the stage play, Clark sought out the approval to make alterations from the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, which administers copyright protection of the songwriters’ productions.

“We were able the use the best parts of the stage version and the best parts of the film version and combine them into a great piece of storytelling,” he says. “It’s been a great thing to work on because I’ve discovered so many things about the play that I didn’t know about.”

Clark initially had reservations about his participation in staging “The Sound of Music,” but his opinion changed once he began reviewing all the available materials.

He recalls, “When I was asked to direct it, I thought, ‘Oh, no. What am I going to do with that?’ It’s an old war horse. But I’ve totally fallen love with this musical.

“‘The Sound of Music’ that I grew watching every Easter on TV like everyone else was just about children wearing clothes made out of drapes who sing about crisp apple strudels and schnitzel with noodles,” Clark continues. “I didn’t really understand that in a lot of ways it’s a political piece. It’s about a country being taken over and people who are giving in to that, but one man and one woman and their family are resisting. The Nazi element is stronger in the stage version.”

Another daunting challenge Clark had to overcome was overseeing the double trouble of two sets of the seven von Trapp children — count ’em, 14 child actors in all — that the Hale's duplicate casting of roles requires.

“I didn’t know what kind of wooden performances I’d see. But the kids have been fantastic,” he says. “They have been so professional, sweet and have had a great work ethic, and it’s so fun to watch them onstage. You really feel like this is a family of kids and they go through this really interesting character journey as a family.”

Part of the pleasure Clark has derived from the performances of the children he directs was seeing them individually improve as they worked with the show’s musical director, Anne Puzey.

“People will be amazed at what these kids can do,” he explains. “They sing in parts and with beautiful harmonies, and it’s amazing to me that they can do that.”

If you go:

What: “The Sound of Music”

Where: Hale Centre Theatre, West Valley City

When: June 6 through Aug. 4, with evening performances at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday matinees at 12:30 and 4 p.m.

How much: $24-$15

Tickets: 801-984-9000 or halecentretheatre.org

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