They’re alive! They’re alive! OMG They’re Alive!

The hills, that is. With the sound of music.

The hills in question, of course, are those surrounding Thousand Oaks, California, as Cabrillo Music Theatre concludes their 2010-2011 season with an excellent production of “The Sound of Music“, which we saw last night.

I’m pretty sure that most people are familar with this show, It was the last original stage musical from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. It debuted in 1959, following the moderately successful “Flower Drum Song. The original musical starred Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel; in 1965, it was made into an extremely successful movie starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. “The Sound of Music” was the 2nd stage musical I’d ever seen (after “The Rothschilds” with Hal Linden). I saw it at the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera (an organization that no longer exists; it has been subsumed by Broadway/LA) in 1972, in a production starring Sally Ann Howes, Bob Wright, Werner Klemperer, Patricia Morison, and Jean Sanders. I saw it again at the LACLO in 1978 with Florence Henderson and Edward Mulhare. More recently, Cabrillo did “The Sound of Music” in 2001 with Christina Saffran Ashford and Norman Large .

The Sound of Music” features a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, and purports to tell the story of the origin and escape of the Von Trapp Family Singers (although the real story is different; many facts were changed for the purpose of storytelling). The musical storyline tells the story of a young Catholic postulant, Maria Rainer. Maria never quite fit in at her small Austrian abby, and is sent to act as the governess to the seven children of widower Captain Georg von Trapp. Arriving at the von Trapp villa, she wins the children over with music, singing songs that would go on to become popular in a musical film. Eventually, she realizes she is falling in love with the Captain, and he with her, and so she runs away scared to the Abbey. The Captain proposes instead to Baroness Elsa Schräder, which Maria discovers after she is convince to return. Meanwhile, the Germans are taking over Austria, which creates problems for the von Trapps who are strongly Austrian and anti-German. This eventually breaks up the Captain and the Baroness, for she wants to give into the Germans. Maria and the Captain profess their love, and they get married. While they are on their honeymoon, the Anschluss occurs and Max Detweiler, in Maria’s absence, calls the family the Von Trapp Singers and books them into the Kaltzgberg festival. Upon the return of the Captain and Maria, the Germans start pressuring the Captain to join the German navy. To delay having to give an answer, Maria convinces the officers that the Captain and Maria are part of the singers and must perform at the festival. The Captain realizes the only way to avoid the Germans is to leave, and uses the time before the festival to figure the way out. At the concert, the von Trapps sing a number of songs, but when it comes time to give the awards, they are gone. We discover them hiding at the abbey, where the nuns help them escape over the mountains to Switzerland.

A few notes on the book and music itself, seen with a fresh eye. For the most part, the crafting of the musical still holds up well. It is clearly in the classic musical mode, with the lead couple (Captain and Maria) and the couple added for comic relief (Elsa and Max). It has a surprising amount of musical reuse. Songs are used over and over… and over again. I’ll note that Cabrillo did the version that adds two songs that were written for the film version, “I Have Confidence” and “Something Good”. It is clear to see how most of the songs became the classics they are: they are well crafted, entertaining, and serve their roles well. I did realize that I don’t like the song “No Way To Stop It”—well, I like the music, but the words make absolutely no sense in the context they are using it. It also reminds one of how Rodgers and Hammerstein tackled controversial subjects for their time: this was one of the first musicals to deal with the Nazis.

Cabrillo’s production of “The Sound of Music” was excellent. Starting from the startlingly beautiful “Preludium’ (which made me realize the quality of the Kavli as a good concert hall) to the finale, this was just a great production through and through. Partial credit goes to the director, Lewis Wilkenfeld (who is also CMT’s Artistic Director), who brought out the fun in the cast, turning what can easily be wooden roles and performances into real characters you thought you would like. Even characters like Max came across well. About the weakest was Elsa, who always comes across weakly due to a poor characterization in the book. Wilkenfeld did a great job here, and deserves recognition.

A good director needs good actors, and luckily Wilkenfeld assembled a good team (supposedly 512 auditioned for the 30 or so roles). The actors are a mix of equity professionals, local professionals, and local amateurs. Wilkenfeld likes to emphasize that Cabrillo does not present tours, but neither are they the weak regional theatre productions one often sees with part-time actors. Cabrillo is regional theatre with professional acting and professional production values, which puts it in a very unique position (and a very good value, if you look at their subscription prices).

Anyway, as I was saying, Wilkenfeld assembed a great team. In the lead positions were Shannon Warneæ at Maria and Tom Schmidæ as Captain Von Trapp. We’ve seen Warne numerous times before, both in Cabrillo productions as well as in Camelot at the Pasadena Playhouse and Having It All at the NoHo Arts Center. She brought a wonderful playfullness to the role—a delight, a joy, with a little bit of inner vulnerability tinged with strength. It was a delight to watch. We’ve also seen Schmid before; he was in I Do! I Do! at the Pasadena Playhouse. He had a lovely singing voice and brought out the inner Captain quite well.

The supporting positions were also strong: Marilyn Anderson as the Mother Abbess, Laura Cable as Elsa, and Michael G. Hawkinsæ as Max. A few notes here. I particularly enjoyed Hawkins portrayal of Max: he brought a playfullness and delight to the role I hadn’t noticed before (I have Warner Klemperer burned into my mind here). Cable was also looser as Elsa than I had remembered, and had a good singing voice. The Abbess has a smaller part, but Anderson had the needed operatic voice that makes “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” work.

Also in supporting positions are the Von Trapp Children: Alison Woods (Liesl), Michael Kennedy (Friedrich), Lyrissa Leininger (Louisa), Mason Purece (Kurt), Audrey Miller (Brigitta), Natalie Esposito (Marta), and Kristina Van Horst (Gretl). Of these, two are notable. Woods, as Liesl, had a delightful singing voice, and was extremely good in her duets with Warne in “The Lonely Goatherd”. Van Horst, of course, won over the audience as the extremely cute Gretl.

Rounding out the cast, in small and ensemble roles, were: Tyler Matthew Burk (Rolf), Gloria Bennett (Frau Schmidt), David Gilchrist (Franz), Patrick J. Saxon (Herr Zeller), Robert Weibezahl (Baron Elberfeld), John McCool Bowers (Admiral Von Schreiber), CMT regular Farley Cadena (Sister Margaretta), Becca Cornelius (Sister Sophia), Karen Sonnenschein (Sister Berthe), Ronni Coleen Ashley (Ensemble), Carol-Lynn Campbell (Ensemble), Carolyn Freeman Champ (Ensemble), Judy Domroy (Ensemble), Lori Merkle Ford (Ensemble), Heidi Goodspeed (Ensemble), Stephanie Hayslip (Ensemble), Julie Jones (Ensemble), Laura Leininger (Ensemble), Maegan Mandarino (Ensemble), Jacqueline Elyse Rosenthal (Ensemble), Christanna Rowader (Ensemble), Catherine Wallet (Ensemble), Emily Works (Ensemble), David Kennedy (Ensemble), Mark David Lackey (Ensemble), Bart Leininger (Ensemble), and Jesse Test (Ensemble).
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity ]

Musical direction was by Darryl Archibald, who also conducted the excellent Cabrillo orchestra. Matthew Smedal was assistant musical director and associate conductor. Choreography was by Heather Castillo.

Technically, this musical was quite interesting. The set can trace its lineage back to that 1972 production of “The Sound of Music” that I saw at LA CLO; it’s now owned by Musical Theatre West. It held up quite well. Of course, it had some assistance. It was lit quite nicely by Rand Ryan, the lighting designer, and augmented by Anna Grijalva, who developed additional props. Tim Schroepfer, the technical director, was also likely involved in figuring out how to put it together. Also helping technically was Jonathan Burke, the sound designer (who did an exceptional job this time with the directionality of the sound), Christine Gibson as the wardrobe supervisor, and Mark Travis Hoyer (wing and makeup design). Allie Roy was the Production Stage Manager, assisted by Taylor Ruge and Jessica Standifer.

Tonight is the last performance of “The Sound of Music” at Cabillo. Tickets are likely available; visit the online box office or give them a call. Cabrillo has announced their upcoming season: “Annie“, “Ring of Fire“, “Once Upon a Mattress“, and “Meet Me in St. Louis“.

Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: Our theatre calendar gets lighter for a while, although I do have some shows to book. August brings “The Boys Next Door” at REP East on August 13, and “On Golden Pond” at the Colony Theatre on August 20, and possibly the last Summer Evening at the Huntington with the Quarteto Neuvo on August 27. September currently only has one weekend booked: “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” at REP East on September 24; October shows “Shooting Star” at the Colony Theatre on October 1, and “Annie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on October 22. October will also hopefully bring The Robber Bridegroom” at ICT. Of course, I expect to fill some of the weekends in August, September, and October with productions that have yet to appear on the RADAR of Goldstar or LA Stage Alliance.