Theater Review: THE SOUND OF MUSIC (La Mirada Theatre)

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by Jordon Julien on April 27, 2022

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

YOUR HEART WILL BE BLESSED

Maria, an Austrian novice nun in the late 1930s, has difficulty in dealing with the rigid lifestyle of her monastery in Salzburg. Her loving Mother Abbess sends her off to be a nanny to seven children of widower and celebrated navy captain Georg von Trapp, a tough military man. Through music and her joie de vivre, the children fall in love with Maria and even the captain starts seeing her in a different light. Meanwhile the Nazis are about to “peacefully” take over Austria during The Third Reich’s Anschluss, casting a dark shadow on the family and their beloved Austrian homeland.

The company

One of the most popular musicals of all time, The Sound of Music features Rodgers & Hammerstein‘s beautiful songs and Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse‘s rom-dram libretto. While some may consider it middle brow, kitschy and old-fashioned, this middle-aged reviewer couldn’t help shedding a tear or two during some of the key scenes. Even those theatergoers who find the show nonessential viewing will be impressed by the creativity of the performances and staging.

Diane Phelan, Kayla Anjali (center), and the children

A challenge for directors is living up to the evergreen 1965 movie version which memorably starred Julie Andrews and has probably been seen by most of the audience. Director Glenn Casale (Peter Pan starting Cathy Rigby) fortunately does not reinvent the wheel on this traditional musical. Instead of adding something new to the material, Casale is treating the audience to a much larger cast: the show opens with 24 (!) nuns exquisitely singing acapella hymns. Choosing both national and local performers, the show is superbly cast with high-caliber musical theatre actors, many of whom are veterans of Broadway and national tours.

Christopher Carl, Diane Phelan Adam Lendermon, Gordon Goodman, Roland Ponce Rusinek & company

And there are 17 players in the pit, more than normally offered in regional and national tours. Under Dennis Castellano‘s superb direction, there is a rich string sound so often missing in musical theatre productions. And with Broadway-caliber speakers, a drum booth, top-of-the-line microphones and well-balanced sound design by Phil Allen and Josh Bessom, both lyrics and dialogue were clear and comprehensible. All the Rodgers & Hammerstein favorites never sounded better, starting with the title song and continuing melodically with “Maria,” “My Favorite Things,”  “The Lonely Goatherd,” “How Can Love Survive?” and “Edelweiss.”

Diane Phelan and Suzanna Guzmán

Diane Phelan (The King and I & South Pacific at Lincoln Center) headlines the cast as Maria. Her crystal-clear lyric soprano, comic timing and stage presence win over the audience almost immediately. Christopher Carl (South Pacific and Mamma Mia! on Broadway), who plays the stern Captain von Trapp, matches Phelan in likeability with his silver-haired good looks and classic baritone voice that reminded me of John Raitt. Their stage chemistry was so palpable that it had a few members of the audience inappropriately catcalling during their big romantic scene.

Christopher Carl and Diane Phelan (center) with the children

The revival also benefits from the winning performances of seven winning youngsters who play the von Trapp children. The were clearly super-excited to be on stage to warm our hearts, and their enthusiasm was matched by great comic timing and great vocals. It’s hard to cast the roles with boys and girls who look the proper age and can still sing and act, but all the children look and sound authentic. They take Casale’s direction beautifully and their first act “Do-Re-Me” number with Maria is a show-stopping delight. The lads and lasses who play the von Trapp children are Weston Bagley as “Friedrich,” Erin Choi as “Marta,” Kayla Anjali as “Gretl,” Alma Marian as “Brigitta,” Ashley Gallo as “Louisa,” Oliver Stewart as “Kurt,” and adult actress Jenna Lea Rosen as the oldest, “Liesl,” who is refreshingly portrayed as a young woman who is clearly sexually mature with adult needs. Well done by all.

Jenna Lea Rosen, Weston Bagley, Ashley Gallo, Oliver Stewart,
Alma Marian, Erin Choi, Kayla Anjali and Diane Phelan

Luxury casting of secondary roles include the veteran international opera star Susana Guzmán who gives a wry performance as the wise and loving Mother Abbess. “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” may be emotionally manipulative, but Guzmán displays an operatic delivery that is thrilling. Even the steeliest of audience members will be choked up by this stirring anthem. We even get Broadway veteran actress Jennifer Leigh Warren as Sister Berthe.

Suzanna Guzmán and Diane Phelan

Choreography by Arthur L. Ross for this mostly non-dancing show is appropriately basic for most of the cast but features some advanced moves for flirting triple-threat couple Ms. Rosen and Corey Lingner (An American in Paris, On The Town on Broadway), who plays Nazi-sympathizing telegraph delivery boy Rolf. The sets by Adam Koch are unfortunately no match for the Technicolor alps of the movie and its lavish studio locations, but “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” had beautifully effective lighting by Jared A. Sayeg that effectively sets the mood of this and, well, every scene.

Cory Lingner and Jenna Lea Rosen

If you need a panacea for the post-Covid blues make your way to La Mirada Theatre for exceptional musical theatre. Patrons who expect to see a familiar (or overly-familiar) The Sound of Music oozing sentimentality and adorable children will be impressed by producer McCoy-Rigby’s vision and blown away by a stunning team of talented thespians. Who would have thought this warhorse offered so much intelligent emotion and honest warmth?

Christopher Carl, Weston Bagley, Jenna Lea Rosen, Alma Marian,
Ashley Gallo, Erin Choi, Oliver Stewart, Kayla Anjali and Diane Phelan

photos by Jason Niedle

The Sound of Music
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts
14900 La Mirada Blvd. in La Mirada
Thurs at 7:30; Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 1:30 & 6:30
ends on May 15, 2022
for tickets, call 562.944.9801 or visit La Mirada Theatre

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