Rodgers & Hammerstein, Howard Lindsey and Russel Crouse didn’t write “The Sound of Music” as a political statement but 50 years after the show first opened on Broadway the issues it addresses are surprisingly topical.
Georg Ludwig von Trapp had served with honor in the Austro-Hungarian navy in World War I but although an ally of Germany in that war he despised the Nazis who’d come to power in the ‘30s and opposed their plans to unite two German-speaking nations into a “Greater Germany,” Friends urged him to keep his personal reservations to himself, but after the two countries were peacefully united von Trapp was recalled to service – this time in the German navy, and subject to the orders of a government whose policies he disagreed with.
Who could have anticipated in 1959 that many Americans would find themselves in similar situations in the years to come?
So much for politics! It’s the story of the unlikely romance between Captain von Trapp and a young would-be nun, and the glorious Rodgers & Hammerstein songs, which have made the show a Broadway classic. Diamond Head Theatre’s season-closing production of the ever-popular Broadway blockbuster brings the political issues to the table while simultaneously doing justice to the stirring love story and some of the popular songs in 20th century musical theater – “My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” among them.
First and foremost, director/choreographer Greg Zane has a marvelous find in Sarah Juliette Halford (Maria). Halford has it all — the look, the voice and the acting skills needed to play a sheltered young woman who learns to face her fears and follow her heart. Halford establishes herself as a vocalist with her first number, the show’s iconic title song, but it is the scenes that follow — with Trissa DeBenedetto Walter (The Mother Abbess) and Buz Tennent (Captain von Trapp) — that her skills as an actor become apparent.
Tennent is a perfect choice as von Trapp. He looks every inch a formal naval officer and full-time martinet, and he towers giant-like over the others – women, children and Nazis alike. Tennent’s acting skills serve him well in the key scenes where von Trapp’s formal demeanor finally softens and his emotions are rekindled. Tennent’s portrayal of von Trapp peaks again in the scene where “Edelweiss” becomes the captain’s emotionally fraught farewell to the homeland he can no longer protect and the fellow Austrians he can no longer serve. Tennett illuminates every facet of the character.
THE VON TRAPP children — Nicole Chaffin (Liesl), Chase Bridgman (Freidrich), Malia Lane (Louisa), Ari Dalbert (Kurt), Chelsea Lynne Michel (Brigitta), Kira Stone (Marta) and Riley Newton (Gretl) — are engaging as individuals while also in sync as an ensemble on “Do-Re-Mi,” “My Favorite Things” and “So Long Farewell.” Michel has several good moments as the von Trapp child who speaks her mind and who “cannot tell a lie.”
Chaffin embodies the innocence and naïveté of a girl on the edge of womanhood. She hits all the right notes with her singing and acting in “Sixteen Going On Seventeen” opposite Beau Brians (Rolf); he proves a competent romantic lead in the role of the idealistic young Nazi who believes that Austria’s future lies with Germany.
Scott Moura (Max Detweiler) personifies unabashed self-interest as the cheerfully apolitical impresario for whom ideology is irrelevant as long as the ideologues in power will let him make money. Jennifer Cleve Sojot (Elsa Schrader) is also good as in the more complicated role of Captain von Trapp’s wealthy fiancée. Moura and Sojot step forward impressively as vocalists with “No Way To Stop It,” a song representing the views of pragmatists of all eras.
Walter (Mother Abbess) brings Act I to a stirring close with her powerful rendition of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”
Daniel James Kunkel (Zeller) snarls and growls and all but foams at the mouth as the local Nazi bigwig.
Zane makes two bad choices — one in costuming, one in props design — that needlessly mar the production. The German Navy never wore swastika armbands and having Richard Aadland wear one while playing a German admiral is inexcusably bad taste.
There is also a fanciful redesign of the universally reviled Nazi flag — one of the most infamous banners of the last century. The infamous flag is supposed to appear for shock value late in the show but rather than dropping abruptly on opening night to ambush the audience it dropped haphazardly looking like a giant wrinkled bed sheet someone had forgotten to iron.
On the other hand, two thumbs up to Jess Aki (Make-Up and Hair-Design) for resisting any temptation to coif Halford in the style worn by Julie Andrews in the 1965 film and designing a ‘do that is representative of the era. It’s a nice touch.
‘The Sound of Music’
» Where: Diamond Head Theatre, 520 Makapuu Avenue
» When: 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 1
» Cost: $12-$42 (discounts available for full-time students, active-duty military, people 62 and older, and any one under 18.
» Info: 733-0274 or www.diamondheadtheatre.com