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REVIEW: ‘The Sound of Music’ Returns to Philadelphia in a New National Tour

Catch this new production of an old classic now through the weekend.

Embarking on a new production of an old, beloved piece like Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music must feel like both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you are all but guaranteed an enthusiastic audience who already loves the material they are going to see. On the other hand, you are stepping into shoes that are impossible to fill — who can compete with the iconic originals?

 

Admit it, you hear “The Sound of Music” and you picture Julie Andrews spinning in the Alps.

 

Even the lobby’s merchandise shop doesn’t shy away from this: the 50th Anniversary DVD of the Andrews-led film, as well as the original Broadway cast recording starring Mary Martin, are both featured prominently for sale.

 

But that shared history is also what makes experiencing The Sound of Music live on stage so special.  As I walked to the theater, I noticed a little girl all dressed up and holding her grandmother’s hand. “There’s the theater!” her mom exclaimed to them. “Are you excited?” The girl’s wide eyes taking in all the lights, and noticing the show’s poster hanging outside the door, were enough of an answer.

 

This new production of The Sound of Music is lovingly faithful to the original Broadway production, but does not feel tired. The actors and director bring so much talent and energy to the stage, and imbue the source material with freshness in subtle ways, like a different reading of a familiar line or new choreography within a classic number.

 

For example, in “Do-Re-Mi,” Maria uses solfege hand signs to teach the children to sing the notes!

 

The show’s sense of humor seems to be updated as well. Jill-Christine Wiley’s Maria is a combination of charming and awkward that seems more to be modeled after Frozen’s Princess Anna than Andrews’ more graceful wit. Likewise, Valerie Wick’s Brigitta is now bespectacled and sharp (but not overly precocious), which makes more sense when she is the one to piece together that Captain von Trapp and Maria are in love.

 

Meanwhile, the captain’s jilted love interest Baroness Schräder, as well as friend Max Detweiler, are played with more cynicism and camp than you may remember. For viewers who are only familiar with the film version, you will also see a more complex portrayal of these two characters, as their two shared songs were cut from the movie.

 

Also unlike the movie (but in keeping with the original Broadway show), certain songs appear in different contexts than you are expecting. There is no puppet show in “The Lonely Goatherd” (though you can buy an adorable stuffed goat in the lobby!), and Maria sings it to calm the kids during the thunderstorm instead of “My Favorite Things” (don’t worry, that song is still in the play too).

 

But, just like the movie, the play is quite long (nearly three hours with intermission), and of course involves some upsetting elements, so it is recommended for viewers age 5 and up. Even for older kids, though, the slow creep from idyllic nanny sing-along to Nazis annexing Austria is jarring and could lead to some difficult discussions.

 

In this staging, while the dialogue and songs certainly make no mystery of the political climate, the imagery remains lovely — until suddenly the family is performing at the climactic concert in front of a red curtain emblazoned with giant swastikas spanning its width. It was then I realized that we as the audience hadn’t actually seen that symbol in the two-plus hours preceding this moment.

 

A kid next to me asked her adult companion what they meant, which really isn’t a question one can address in hushed tones while a Gretel so adorable that everything she did on stage elicited an audible “aww” from the audience sings her little heart out.

 

Because of its long-lived popularity, a play like The Sound of Music invites such a wide age range; and the audience in fact spanned multiple generations, often within the same family. Whatever your age, you’ve heard “Do-Re-Mi” countless times, but that won’t stop you and the rest of the audience from perking up when Maria starts at the very beginning (a very good place to start).

 

The Sound of Music is playing now through April 29 at the Merriam Theater, at 250 S. Broad St. in Philadelphia. There are evening performances every day of the show’s run, with matinee performances added on the weekend. Tickets start at $40 and can be purchased online and at the Kimmel Center box office.

 

 

Photographs by Matthew Murphy, courtesy of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.

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