The challenge with putting on an iconic production such as TheSound of Musicwill always be to make the storyline seem fresh, to add new and unexpected elements without deviating from the original.
Drayton Festival Theatre succeeded on all counts Wednesday night when it raised the curtain on its first show of the season in the town’s comfortable old opera hall.
The first surprise in this production was a procession of a dozen or so nuns singing their way down the aisles toward the stage where their voices rang in a religious fervour as they sang the prelude. One small issue here: Karen K. Edissi as Sister Margaretta has such a powerful voice she nearly bowls everyone else over which, in many cases, would only enrich the chorus. But there is a distinct, old-fashioned operatic warble to her voice that is most annoying. As an actress, she quickly redeems herself playing the part of the stodgy and unwittingly humorous old nun.
One other small quibble was W. Joseph Matheson’s portrayal of Captain von Trapp. He is a handsome sort and a good actor, but he didn’t come off as quite stiff enough in the beginning, leaving him precious little room to show how he softens once Maria comes into his life. Matheson’s singing voice is certainly distinct and reminiscent of old-fashioned country music stars. Quite compelling, really, so it’s a shame he doesn’t have more of a singing part.
There are so many pluses to this production. Jayme Armstrong as Maria invokes the true spirit of the character. She has the voice and sweetness to really pull it off. Armstrong was one of the finalists in CBC Television’s reality show How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? and she really shows her stuff on stage.
Rebecca Poff as Mother Abbess deserves special recognition. She has the grace and the presence to pull off the part without going overboard and when she sings Climb Every Mountain, her vocals sent chills of delight throughout the audience. The power of her vocals is truly awesome, particularly when she comes to the edge of the stage and really belts it out while facing the adoring crowd.
The strength of any Sound of Music production is, of course, the children and in this the casting is just about perfect. Most adorable is little Avery Grierson as the youngest von Trapp, Gretl. She is beyond adorable and has several short, solo parts where the spotlight is on her tiny, shiny face while the entire audience stares at her as she sings along without a care in the world. Now that’s gutsy.
All the children are excellent, particularly Alyson Workman as the eldest child, Liesl. This is a young woman with a beautiful voice and graceful style. When she sings Sixteen Going on Seventeen and dances with the dashingly handsome Lucas Meeuse as Rolf Gruber, the two are just magical together.
Directed and choreographed by Timothy French, TheSound of Music is a large spectacle with nearly 30 cast members so there is a lot of activity on a stage set against a simple yet effective design by Kelly Wolf. The band, as always, was good though the multi-talented Charlene Nafziger gets a little carried away on the piano. Accompanied by equally talented pianist Rebecca Booker, it’s often difficult to hear the other musicians.
Perhaps it’s just the grandeur of The Sound of Music. It must be difficult not to get carried away.