"The Sound of Music,” Hale Centre Theatre West Valley, through Aug. 4, $24-$15, 801-984-9000 or halecentretheatre.org
WEST VALLEY — With every single song and each individual scene of the Julie Andrews-Christopher Plummer film so indelibly ingrained into the collective popular consciousness, how can staging a fresh and exciting “The Sound of Music” even be possible?
The Hale Centre Theatre creative team takes into consideration the intense popularity of the movie version, and the production pays homage to the 1965 wide-screen adaptation with craftsmen able to bring “The Sound of Music” to vivid life.
Not only is the sound of the music in this “Sound of Music” affectionately embraced (with the audience clapping in rhythmic unison during scene changes), but the harrowing drama of the Nazi “unification” of Austria is nearly balanced with the show’s musicality. There’s the kiddie-cuteness audiences anticipate, but there’s also awareness that the story is set in “a world that’s disappearing,” as Captain von Trapp recognizes.
The allure begins from the first scene as Maria, on a raised platform center stage in a small woodland area, sings “The Hills Are Alive.” No, wait — the correct title of the song is “The Sound of Music.” There’s an indication of the elaborate stagecraft as painterly forest scenes in a variety of gilded frames and full-size tree trunks are slowly illuminated on the theater’s circular walls to engulf the audience. Also impressive are butterflies that gently flit down from the ceiling into the children’s nets, a bubbling fountain in the garden scenes and glorious similarly hued costumes. So are two full-size German-appearing motorcycles, one with a sidecar, roaring onto the stage with headlights piercing the dark and temporarily blinding our eyes. The swastikas and red armbands are just as chilling.
The Monday-Wednesday-Friday cast is very talented and sings with enthusiasm and charisma. As Maria, Megan Lynn Heaps is lovely voiced and brings her own winsomeness and vulnerability to the part. In a word, Heaps is a delight. The show’s Captain von Trapp, Matthew Dobson struggles to find his voice in “Edelweiss” (which is not an Austrian state anthem but was composed for the 1959 show). That’s just as his character would after eschewing music in his home. Dobson’s focus is on the romance and drama, speaking his lines without awareness there might be some humor in the script.
In the role of Mother Abbess, Martha West Glissmeyer has a strong and vivid singing voice that soars heavenward. The choral singing of the large group of nine nuns is inspiring and, with sound-design assistance, echoes through the theater. Kelly Combs Johnson and Matthew Wade Johnson, married in real life, are full of youthful joy and abandon as the young lovers, Liesl and Rolf, in a large gazebo covered with blooming wisteria vines during “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.”
And the children. As with each cast member, director Dr. Chris Clark shows his flair in providing clear direction. Nicholas Crapo, Ally Ioannides, Zion Smith, Abigail Adams, Alyssa Shar Buckner and 6-year-old Mia Bagley deliver the goods as Friedrich, Louisa, Kurt, Brigitta, Marta and Gretl. They charm without slathering it on.
The reshuffled sequence of songs follows the order of the 1998 Broadway staging that includes the throwaway song “How Can Love Survive?” sung by two able-skilled performers (Jessica Pearce as Elsa Schraeder and Zac Zumburnnen as Max Detweiler) but excludes “No Way to Stop It.” As in the revival and film, “My Favorite Things” is sung by Maria and the children, not the Mother Abbess.
Mention must be made to the glorious Rodgers-Hammerstein score. With rare exception, the songs are gems, with the only problem being too numerous deceptively child-like tunes.
Affection for “The Sound of Music” is contingent on individual views, ranging from disdain for syrupy sweetness or enraptured cuddling, but the show remains as a sturdy and important piece of musical theater. With the Hale Centre Theatre staging, “The Sound of Music” is given its due.