Theater review

Those hills are still alive with music

Fri, 06/17/2022 - 10:30am

Maine State Music Theater reopens Pickard Theater for the first time in two years with a divinely cast production of “The Sound of Music” – music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, with the book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse.

Hanley Smith leads the cast as Maria Rainer, the 19-year-old postulate at Nonnberg Abbey who just cannot pray away her free spirit, nor silence her singing and love of music. Smith’s Maria is a delightful presence on stage. Everything about her is completely genuine, natural. We meet her singing “The Sound of Music” as she slowly makes her way back to the Abbey.

Meanwhile, back at the Abbey, Sister Berthe (Rebecca Robbins) and Sister Margaretta (Shannon Thurston) are delightfully expressive singing “(How Do You Solve A Problem Like) Maria?”

Returning to the Abbey – late – Maria is directed by one of these Sisters to the Mother Abbess’ (Beth Kirkpatrick) office. Seems Mother isn’t so sure Maria is destined to wear the habit – and she shares her suspicions with the postulate who says she is. Maria says she’s always wanted to be a nun, having watched the nuns at the Abbey throughout her childhood in the mountains.

Maria shares some of her favorite things with Mother Abbess and soon both are singing, jumping off “the” chair … Maria’s energy gets right to Mother’s heart and it’s clear she enjoys singing every bit as much as Maria, but do they share the love of the habit?

Mother Abbess informs Maria she has found employment for her outside the Abbey; Maria will be governess to a Capt. Georg von Trapp’s (Will Ray) seven children. The retired Naval officer is a widower who, since his wife’s death, treats his children like an enlisted man. Each one has a different sound from his whistle. Maria will stay there for three months until school resumes in September. When she returns to the Abbey, Maria and Mother Abbess will discuss where Maria’s future truly lies.

And about those von Trapp kids played by Jaden Nicita (Friedrich), Taylor Quick (Liesl), Sophia Scott (Louisa), Gregory J. Trapp Jr. (Kurt), Kate Walters (Brigitta), Lily Philbrook (Marta), and Josie Marzilli (Gretl. Each one is as talented as they are delightful. Every scene with Maria and the children is as much fun for the audience as it appears to be for them.

Liesl’s secret meeting with admirer Rolf Gruber (Austin Phillips) for the “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” number was flirty and charming. We all remember young, budding love. Quick’s on pointe ballet, the lift, the stolen kiss … all brought a tear to my eye, and to a few others in the audience, I’m sure.

Just as Maria was not liked by all of the nuns at the Abbey, here at the von Trapp villa, Elsa Schräder (Katie Sina) is not keen on the young, attractive, governess living in her man’s home. Elsa is well-to-do and has her sights set on becoming the second Mrs. von Trapp. But, that’s just not meant to be, is it?

The party at the villa, to introduce Elsa to the neighbors, brings Nazi supporters into the von Trapp home – and Georg is no supporter of the Fatherland. To lighten up the evening, Maria has the children sing their goodnight song, “So Long, Farewell,” which does alleviate some of the tension. When tempers flare again and the Captain is threatened, Maria asks him to join her in showing the guests an old Austrian folk dance. And during that dance a mutual attraction surfaces – and everyone, including Elsa, can see it.

Maria steals away into the night without saying goodbye to return to the safety and predictability of life at the Abbey. Mother Abbess sends her back and brings the first act to a close to the tune of “Climb Every Mountain” with the expected power and emotion it requires.

Maria is ready to tell the Captain how she feels. Unfortunately he is engaged to Elsa, albeit briefly because Capt. Von Trapp cannot follow Elsa in her support of Hitler.

Georg and Maria, free to profess their love for each other, finally do with “An Ordinary Couple” – their love easily conveyed to the audience.

There is light in the darkness of the second act, particularly the wedding at the otherworldly Abbey.

Scenic designer Michael Schweikardt and lighting designer Paul Black have done an outstanding job taking the audience from the Austrian hills to the Abbey to the von Trapp villa, but the Abbey – wow! The tiny white lights on black behind the candlelit gates of the Abbey ...

The second act finds the newlyweds returning to an invaded country – and home (even some of the housekeeping staff are pro-Germany). Hitler’s men come to the villa to tell von Trapp he is being called into service and must comply.

The family’s only possible chance to escape comes thanks to Max Detweiler (Blake Hammond) who after hearing the children singing “So Long, Farewell” at the villa has booked them at the Karlsberg Festival as The von Trapp Family Singers. During that performance, von Trapp sings “Edelweiss,” a love song for his beloved Austria, and then quickly leaves the stage to be whisked away to the Abbey, to hide until the family can escape the Nazis through those mountains Maria and Georg know so well ...

“I go to the hills when my heart is lonely ~ I know I will hear what I've heard before ~ My heart will be blessed with the sound of music ~ And I'll sing once more ...”

According to the American Film Institute, “The Sound of Music” is number four of the great American musicals, preceded by “Singing In the Rain,” “West Side Story,” and “The Wizard Of Oz” – in that order, and all staged by Maine State Music Theater. And why not? Their productions are solid gold. Bravo!

“The Sound of Music” runs through June 25. Visit for tickets.