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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Earworms, Lederhosen and Other Reasons to See Jack O’Brien’s Take on ‘The Sound of Music’

Posted By on Thu, Sep 15, 2016 at 12:59 PM

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Holy shit — Jack O’Brien is directing a touring production of The Sound of Music? Really? The artist who mounted the amazing, hellzapoppin’ Broadway production of Tom Stoppard’s nine-hour Coast of Utopia? And the still-fabled production of Henry IV starring Ethan Hawke? And, on top of that, the musical version of John Waters’ Hairspray?

Needless to say, Jack O’Brien is one of my favorite things; so perhaps that’s why I’m a bit befuddled by the production currently at the Majestic through Sunday. It’s not that there’s anything very wrong with this Sound of Music; it’s that there’s nothing very Jack O’Brien about this Sound of Music. (I guess I expected some radical reinterpretation, or some obvious raison d’ être for 2016.) As it is, the production is attractive; well-acted; a little long (a flaw in the book); and, like Cabaret, an interesting, sometimes moving narrative about politics and romance in the age of Weimar. But — unlike, say, CabaretThe Sound of Music isn’t particularly malleable, or open to multiple interpretations: It’s a mark of a lesser musical that it’s only what it is, never an endless expanse of what it can be. The Sound of Music, it seems, has already reached its ideal form in the 1965 movie version, starring Julie Andrews. This touring production seems, by contrast, a loving throwback to the operetta-style musicals of yore — the last number is even designated Finale Ultimo. (Take that, Donizetti!)

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The good news is that while a stage production of The Sound of Music can never top the movie, it can’t misfire, either. The score is always hummable —including Richard Rodgers’ earworm of a melody for “Do-Re-Mi” — and the plot includes some lovely moments, especially the love waltz between confused protagonists at the end of Act I. Douglas W. Schmidt’s set design is perhaps a mite too painterly in the first act, with a certain flatness to the space; the design (and the production) really springs to life, however, in the second half, as a swift, almost cinematic procession of scene changes quickens the pulse —and the plot. (A sudden, stark panoply of swastikas is a particularly chilling touch.) Kerstin Anderson (as Maria) and Ben Davis (as the Captain) are both winning presences, though Melody Betts steals the show as The Mother Abbess of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” fame. Teri Hansen is directed a bit too archly as the entitled Baroness Schraeder, while Merwin Foard plays impresario Max as a big ol’ ’mo. (Which, weirdly, provides another point of thematic overlap between Cabaret and The Sound of Music. Who’d have thunk?) The von Trapp children are adorable.

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So: if you’ve somehow never seen The Sound of Music on stage, it’s worth checking out, if only for the songs that were cut for the film. (That includes, by the way, the weird “No Way To Stop It,” still Hammerstein’s best song about Anschluss. Or anyone’s best song about Anschluss.) And while there’s absolutely nothing about this production to ruffle feathers — and I prefer ruffled feathers — it’s a respectable, straight-up mounting with some fetching leads (and even more fetching lederhosen).

7:30 p.m., Thu. Sept. 15, $71-$113; 8 p.m., Fri. Sept. 16, $65-$228; 2 and 8 p.m., Sat. Sept. 17, $65-281; and 2 and 8 p.m., Sun. Sept. 18, $63-$281. Tickets can be purchased here

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