‘The Sound of Music’ charms opening-night Starlight Theatre audience

07/26/2014 2:00 PM

07/27/2014 8:08 PM

Nice performances and a considerable amount of charm enliven Starlight Theatre’s quickly rehearsed production of “The Sound of Music,” the outdoor theater’s only self-produced show of the season.

Director Phil McKinley, who chose good actors and terrific singers, assembles the show with workmanlike precision, achieving a surprising degree of emotional resonance in a show that plays off the viewers’ familiarity with the material.

If your only point of reference is the 1965 movie, then the show may surprise you in some ways. The filmmakers cut some songs, reordered others, reduced the importance of some supporting characters and generally streamlined the narrative.

By comparison, the book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse offers a denser, novelistic approach, creating a textured narrative that surrounds the central love story with a nuanced depiction of an Austria falling under German dominance just before World War II. One could argue that the movie-makers had the right idea, because at times this production acquires a dogged, let’s-get-to-the-next-scene quality.

The principal actors deliver the goods. Analisa Leaming is an appealing Maria, the young novice who becomes a governess to the seven children of Capt. Von Trapp, a widower and former naval officer. Leaming is an energetic presence onstage and fulfills the role’s most basic requirement — to carry the show.

Tom Galantich is an imposing presence as Von Trapp, effortlessly reflecting a stern but suave persona in the early going and then smoothly morphing into a man in love surrendering utterly to his feelings.

Suzanne Ishee, as the Mother Abbess, gets the big show-stopper than concludes Act I — “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” the showy follow-your-dreams anthem. Ishee sings it for all it’s worth.

James Judy delivers a fine supporting performance as Max, the family friend and music manager who sees a potential goldmine in the singing Von Trapp children. Judy is highly enjoyable as Max, the pragmatist whose chumminess with the Nazi regime allows him to help engineer the family’s escape.

Glory Crampton projects casual elegance as Elsa Schraeder, the would-be Mrs. Von Trapp who steps aside when it becomes clear that Von Trapp and Maria are helplessly in love. Fleshing out utilitarian roles in convincing fashion are Kathleen Warfel as the blustery housekeeper, Kip Niven as the Nazi-leaning butler, John Rensenhouse as an officious Third Reich admiral, Bruce Roach as a rabid party leader and Seth Jones as Rolf, the teenager who goes over to the Nazi Youth.

A crucial ingredient of any production of this show is the Von Trapp children. The essential question is: How cute are they? In the case of this production, the answer is: Very. Claire Charland as Liesl, Brandon Hulla as Friedrich, Megan Walstrom as Louisa, Cam Burns as Kurt, Fiona Scott as Brigitta, Josephine Pellow as Marta and especially the tiny Delilah Rose Pellow as Gretl, the youngest, win over the audience as soon as they appear.

The rented sets often confine McKinley’s staging choices in the abbey scenes to two-dimensional arrangements with actors standing in front of a huge drop. The Von Trapp home has plenty of depth, although outdoor sequences could have benefited from backdrops painted with a bit more attention to detail.

The infectious songs by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II include some of their most recognizable, even if Hammerstein’s lyrics don’t quite measure up to his best work. Some of the melodies — “My Favorite Things, “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” and “Do-Re-Mi” — take up permanent residence in your brain once you hear them.

What’s remarkable about this production and the material is its ability to emotionally connect with an audience, no matter how often we’ve seen the show. When McKinley herds his 50-plus performers on stage and you can hear Rodgers’ music voiced by the huge cast (including the Kansas City Women’s Chorus), the effect is magical.

To reach Robert Trussell, call 816-234-4765 or send email to rtrussell@kcstar.com.

“The Sound of Music” runs through Thursday at Starlight Theatre. Call 816-363-7827 or go to KCStarlight.com.

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