Regional Theater Review: THE SOUND OF MUSIC (3-D Theatricals at Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton)

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by Tony Frankel on February 18, 2012

in Theater-Regional

3-D THEATRICALS MAKES QUITE A SOUND

The 70MM, Panavision aerial shot of Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer and entourage trekking over the border into Switzerland in The Sound of Music (1965) may be impressive, but it pales in comparison to the final moments of 3-D Theatrical’s revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1959 audience pleaser. On a massive set provided by The Music and Theatre Company, the lovely Kim Huber (as Maria), Tom Schmid (as the Captain) and seven fetching young actors ascended toward the Tyrolean catwalks. Below them, the chorus resoundingly detonated the last few measures of the inspirational and iconic “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” with such fierce civic pride and “all the love they could give” that it exploded 1,500 spectators into the musical theatre firmament.

Inside the gorgeous mission-style Plummer Auditorium, this colossal production – with its titanic set changes, 18-piece orchestra, and enormous cast – went off without a hitch. Joining the few Broadway players was an ensemble of mostly non-equity performers who have proven themselves as stars in other southland appearances – John Butz from 1776, Macleish Day from The Interlopers, Laura M. Hathaway from The Secret Garden, and J.P. Sarro from Hairspray to name a few. Joining this cavalcade of talent were capable graduates of neighboring CSU Fullerton.

The assemblage not only made evident the passion of T. J. Dawson – director, executive producer and Artistic Director of 3-D Theatricals – but also generates a persuasive argument about why this kind of professional community theatre is such a necessary national treasure. In the audience, teenaged girls dressed up as if going to the prom, and young children remained rapt throughout the 3-hour evening, one which hopefully injected them with a Dionysian spirit.

The original stage version of The Sound of Music was such a crowd pleaser that many are surprised to learn that the Mary Martin vehicle received very mixed reviews. 3-D’s commendable production illuminates why this is so – the mawkish, unashamedly sentimental show may have plenty of charm and attractive standards, but it still reeks of the clichés seen in operetta, especially as concerns the principles. There are unfledged characters, situational implausibility, bouncy precocious tots and a slew of songs that are either misplaced or should have been excised altogether.

It certainly makes the movie version that much more appreciated. Brilliant screenwriter Ernest Lehman knew just what to cut-and-paste from Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse’s book and what to toss out. In both stage and cinema, the mischievous postulant Maria is sent from the Abbey by the Mother Abbess to be a governess for the seven children of a tyrannical, widowed Captain. In the film, the Captain departs his Salzburg estate for a month, in which Maria has time to teach the rascals how to sing and harmonize as fine as the Vienna Boys’ Choir, bonding with the half-waifs as they traipse and prance among both the “old town” (Altstadt) and the Alpine peaks.

On the boards, however, no sooner does the plucky nun-to-be encounter the overly-disciplined progeny that she manages to turn them into an Austrian singing sensation in one song, “Do-Re-Mi.” The good news is that 3-D turns the preposterous goings on into an enchanting, exhilarating and rousing rendition of the famous tuner. As Maria, Huber may be a hair too long-in-the-tooth and not quite the spit-fire the nuns at the Abbey make her out to be, but she triumphantly wins our hearts with her thoroughly engaging demeanor.

The beguiling youngsters must all be mentioned by name: Tessa Grady, Griffin Runnels, Jenna Lea Rosen, Carter Thomas, Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Jaidyn Young and Hadley Miller, the seven-year old who is unusually powerful in the role of Gretl. All seven of the fresh thespians execute their harmonies and Kami Seymour’s pleasant choreography with a do-re-mi professionalism one would expect on Broadway.

But it’s still a preposterous set-up.

THE SOUND OF MUSIC - 3-D Theatricals at Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton - Regional Theater Review by Tony FrankelWhen the musical was originally revived, R&H Theatricals saw fit to add “I Have Confidence” and “Something Good” from the movie, but someone should have tinkered with the placement of the songs. Audiences unfamiliar with the stage version should rightfully be jarred when the Mother Abbess sings “My Favorite Things” with Maria just before she ejects the “problem” postulant back into the real world, guitar case in hand. And instead of using her favorite things to calm the children during a thunderstorm, Maria and the fledgling crooners do a perfect rendition of “The Lonely Goatherd,” sans the puppet theatre.

Still, a perfect rendition of a musical number trumps any of the sub-standard fare so often delivered from other productions. Indeed, it is in the perfectly synthesized musical numbers that 3-D shows its prowess and potential for matching the proficiency of reputable companies such as Musical Theatre West. But even with earnest, well-cast leads, some of the actors in smaller roles struggled with the THE SOUND OF MUSIC - 3-D Theatricals at Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton - Regional Theater Review by Tony Frankelweaknesses in the script, turning in performances as muggy as a Salzburg storm, which is why The Sound of Music in Fullerton, no matter how professional, retains a patina of community theatre.

But, Sancta Maria, what a display of music! Julie Lamoureux conducted with assertiveness and grace, and her musical direction clearly inspired the cast. The harmonies from the chorus of nuns were resplendent and Cynthia Marty as the Abbess rightfully had me thinking of apostasy when she sang the act one closer about fording ev’ry stream.

The glorious Jill Van Velzer played Elsa, the love interest of Captain Von Trapp. Apparently, her wiles and bitchy repartee have nothing on that charming child of God who brings music back into the house. Although the show could have benefitted from the removal of “No Way to Stop It,” a fun but absurd up-tempo number that is about declaring acquiescence to the Nazis, we were lucky to hear Van Velzer’s melodious tones.

I couldn’t quite figure out what James Stellos was up to as the fictional Max, the music promoter who accompanies Elsa from her home in Vienna. In the movie, the children refer to him as “Uncle Max” but based on Stellos’ lightly sissified manner and hyper, Eddie Canter-esque physicality, I’m not sure I would have left my children alone with him as a governess while on my honeymoon. Even though his interpretation gave a little back story unseen in the script, Stellos floated around the stage as if he were the chef singing “Les Poissons” in The Little Mermaid.

Whereas the stage version of The Sound of Music remains hopelessly gushy and its faults made even more apparent compared to the movie’s golden corny magnificence, any self-respecting American Musical Theatre aficionado should get on their knees and pray for the continuation of 3-D Theatricals, a mighty impressive, family-run company which managed to pull off something which keeps faith alive, whether in an Abbey or a theatre – and that is a miracle.

photos by Alysa Brennan

The Sound of Music
3-D Theatricals in Fullerton
scheduled to end on February 26, 2012
for tickets, visit http://www.3dtshows.com

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