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Sound of Music

The Sound of Music
Peoria Players Theatre
December 5-7 & 10-14

By Stan Strickler


Having me review The Sound of Music is a bit like asking a vegan to review the most popular steakhouse in town. While it is a much beloved musical, to me it seems dated and tired and much too sweet. While the show is based on real life people, the characters seem more like caricatures than real life people and so much of their changes in attitude seem unmotivated and much too quick. But I suppose the fact that, for example, Captain von Trapp changes from a stern disciplinarian to a music loving kindly father in the course of one song is a convention of older musical theater.

The story revolves around the widowed Captain von Trapp , the father of seven children and a postulant in the nearby abbey, Maria, who is assigned to be the governess for the children. Maria who is more in love with the mountains than with the strictness of convent life goes rather unwilliningly to the family and immediately connects with the children bringing music back into their lives. Eventually she and the Captain fall in love. Of course complications ensue as the Captain is ordered to serve in the German Navy and swear allegiance to the Nazi Party. Eventually the family escapes by climbing the nearby mountain and getting to safety in Switzerland.

As Maria, Dedra Kaiser brings a sweet voice and perkiness to the role of Maria. She sings beautifully and moves across the stage well, and she connects well with the children most of whom are double cast. Speaking of the children, the cast I saw on opening night were delightful and all had a nice stage presence. Pauline Parkhurst as the eldest Liesl brought a sweetness to her role and sings well. As her love interest Andrew Harlan has a nice voice and dances well in his musical duet with Liesl. As the Mother Abbess Anita Rowden has a powerful voice and does well in the show stopping “Climb Every Mountain.”

As a counter balance to all the sweetness Bryan Blanks as Max Detweiler and Tonya Davis as Elsa bring some notes of realism to the play. They both play their parts well and sing well too. I especially enjoyed their scenes since they seem the most realistic characters in the play. He is a self-serving individual who doesn’t care who he is loyal to and she is a wealthy woman who is in love with the Captain. She does well exhibiting jealousy toward Maria whom she considers a rival and both bring some needed comedy and tension to the musical.

As Captain von Trapp Bruce Colligan hardly seems to connect with Maria whom he supposedly loves and his performance seems one note. He has a wonderful singing voice, and perhaps his acting suffers from the way the part is written since he seems to change opinions in mid-song several times in the play. Also rather troubling in the cast was Julie Simmons as Sister Berthe. While she is a comic element in the show she seems a little over the top in presenting what almost becomes a caricature of the rather strict but scatterbrained nun. As the Admiral Greg Blume seems hardly threatening and therefore offers no foil for the main characters to fear.

Director Mary Ellen Ulrich has assembled a capable cast with good voices and nice stage presence, but sometimes it seems as if everything is much the same. Line the actors up downstage and have them sing. And after a while it becomes a little monotonous. The choreography by Jimmy Ulrich was serviceable if a little clunky in parts. Ashlie Schlatweiler, the music director did a very nice job in bringing the very familiar songs to life and all in all the singing was really outstanding. My biggest complaint about this production is that it has prerecorded music instead of a live orchestra, and it sounds rather fake and sometimes is too loud, drowning out the singers. Also there were a few minor glitches in set changes in the opening night which hopefully will be rectified as the run progresses. The biggest problem with that is that it took far too long between the final number and the curtain call so that the audience sat in a darkened theater wondering what to do.

The Sound of Music continues on Wednesday 12/10 with $15 tickets for adults and $12 for students aged 18 & under and  Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 pm plus a Saturday & Sunday matinee at 2 pm.  Ticket availability is limited: a holdover performance has been added on Sunday, December 14 beginning at 6:30 pm. Tickets are $18 for the adults and $12 for students aged 18 and under and are available at the Peoria Players box office, by calling 309688-4473 or online at www.PeoriaPlayers.org

Posted December 8, 2014