a review of the The Sound of Music, performed at Long Trail School, Dorset VT, Nov. 19–22 2015
It’s been fifty-five years since audiences were first invited by Rodgers and Hammerstein to climb every mountain and solve a problem like Maria, but Long Trail School’s production of The Sound of Music, suitably performed in the foothills of the Green Mountains of Vermont, shows that the celebrated musical is as fresh and inspiring as ever.
Given the long history of excellence associated with Long Trail’s theater department, try-outs apparently attracted a significant chunk of the 180-odd student body, inspiring the directors to opt for a split cast for the principal players. I attended Friday night’s performance, which featured “Cast 2”* treading the boards before an enthusiastic packed house.
Rebecca van Burken produced a star turn as Maria, the postulant who discovers her true vocation when sent to act as governess to seven motherless children in World War II era Austria. van Burken looked the part, acted the part, and sang the part. Sweet, funny, and eventually brave and wise, she captured the audience with her beautiful singing of the title song and never let them go. Connor Eastman was delightful as an obviously grieving and rather lost Captain von Trapp, playing the role with self-deprecating humor. Eastman’s singing of the iconic “Edelweiss” was a highlight of the evening. Both leads played their parts with a sweet innocence that was revealed to be rooted, under threat of the Nazi invasion of Austria, in a powerful strength of character and faith, and as a result had great stage chemistry one doesn’t often see in a high school performance.
It is an understandable challenge in a high school production to show a realistic age difference between children and parents, but such was not the case in this production. The seven von Trapp kids worked together as a well-oiled ensemble within the larger cast, singing their hearts out with boundless joy. Their characters were clearly defined and filled with intentional humor. Jenna D’Olivo as sixteen-going-on-seventeen Liesl was sweet and funny, Valentine Giesy as Freidrich hit his high note to the delight of the house, Zoe Grigsby as Louisa made sure that nobody would want to forget that she was the troublemaker of the family, Casey McMullen as Curt was a hoot, particularly in his dance with Maria, Kelsey McCullough was wholly believable as the truth-telling-no-matter-what Brigitta, Jade Marantz as sweet Marta impressed with her voice, and Charleigh Tifft, as Gretl, the littlest angel, was funny and charming. The expressions of the kids as they discovered the intertwined worlds of music and love were worth the price of admission. I think it’s fair to say that the seven youngsters stole the show, on Friday night at least. Their energy-filled renditions of “Do Re Me,” “Lonely Goatherd,” and “So Long, Farewell” were everything these classic songs should be.
Savannah Hastings and Will Giering as the Captain’s cynical high-society friends Elsa and Max were snickeringly funny, a necessary contrast to the earnestness of Maria and the Captain that worked to the benefit of all four. Giering, as the perennially impoverished Max, got the most laughs of the night, all well-deserved, while Hastings, stunning in her elegant costumes, understood both the world-weariness and the wisdom of Elsa, the unusual “other woman” who (literally) exits the moment she realizes that it’s over.
The supporting cast was particularly good. Anna Pace was believable as the Mother Abbess, who correctly identifies Maria’s love of singing as a love of life beyond the Abbey. Patrick Staples was funny and chilling by turns as seventeen-going-on-eighteen Rolf, and Eliza Ligon was sufficiently passive-aggressive as the von Trapp’s long-suffering housekeeper. The nun’s chorus was visually striking and got the job done of eliciting the peace and solitude of the Abbey.
As is so wonderfully often the case at a Long Trail production, the actors one and all clearly knew what the story was about and how each word of every song related to the message as a whole. Tip of the hat to the director Tracey Wesley and musical director Thomas Neeson for another cohesive show delivered with great thematic clarity. Kudos to the costume team and a special nod to the middle-school kids in the band, who tackled that all-too famous score with nerves of steel. Bravo, all.
* Cast 1 featured Olivia Lane as Maria, Nicholas DeMauro as Captain von Trapp, Greta Shaub as the Abbess, Lily Burnham as Liesl, and Ayden Crispe as Gretl.
Ellen Larson is a writer and the editor of the Poisoned Pencil, the young adult mystery imprint of Poisoned Pen Press.