ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT BY IRV RIKON
PLAY REVIEW: THE SOUND OF MUSIC AT MALTZ JUPITER THEATRE
On opening night, during the intermission of The Sound of Music at the MALTZ JUPITER THEATRE in Jupiter, a colleague of mine greeted me. "How are you liking the show?" "I really like it," I said. I think he then noticed the teardrop that had fallen to my cheek, so he found an excuse to move on.
The Sound of Music, with book by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse, two longtime Broadway standard-bearers, is of course one of the great Richard Rodgers-Oscar Hammerstein II musicals. Commentators have noted that the names of a few of the best writers of classic musicals, like Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Andrew Lloyd Webber, are generally headlined above the show or the stars. In other words, people turn out to see a Rodgers and Hammerstein show because they love Rodgers and Hammerstein shows.
Of course, not everyone shares that feeling. Tastes change. The colleague noted above, much younger than I, is of a generation that generally favors rock and roll or rap music over Richard Rodgers' beautiful melodies or Oscar Hammerstein's poetic words. Even when The Sound of Music was first produced in 1959, with Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel starring, some reviewers criticized it for being "too sentimental." Part of the problem nowadays, it seems to me, is that sentiment has for too long been out of fashion. And perhaps a problem relating to this show specifically is that modern audiences tend to forget the plot is based on a true story.
The play opens in a convent. Nuns sing a hymn and a little song about Maria, who is one of them, but something of a free spirit. "How do you hold a moonbeam in your hands?" they ask. Meanwhile, a widower, a World One hero named Captain Georg von Trapp, has many children and a need for someone to help take care of them. He appeals to the nuns for help. Maria is sent to his home to do the job. The captain is a disciplinarian, befitting a military man. He's also engaged to be married anew. But what really sets him apart is that in his native Austria, he's anti-Nazi; Germans want to occupy his country, and most of the people around him favor it.
Maria charms the children, teaches them to sing, teaches them, one might say, to love, at least to love their father. With time, Maria also charms the Captain, but a misunderstanding finds her back once more in the convent.
Yes, they eventually come together, fall in love and marry, yet most of Act Two is concerned with the Nazis and the threat they pose. As a War hero, the German Nazis want von Trapp to work with Hitler's Third Reich. His conscience will not allow that. He and Maria agree they will have to leave their home, flee the country they love and find a sanctuary somewhere. How they go about doing this with their children is much the subject of Act Two. To me, the need to survive is hardly mere sentimentality.
I do really like the show. I have always liked it. And this production is just fine. True, Catherine Walker as Maria is not Mary Martin or Julie Andrews, who played the role in the motion picture, yet after a while she won me over, too. She's probably closer to the actual Maria than the two better-known stars. Michael Sharon as the Captain doesn't miss a step. He's good. The cast is the largest the Maltz Theatre has ever assembled, with assorted children and Nazis turning the whole thing into an ensemble show. To the theater's credit, it has an actor's training school, and the students in this production have every right to be very proud of themselves. Kudos to everyone in the cast! And kudos to Marc Robin, who directed and choreographed. Considering the limited budget the Maltz must have, the production is quite lavish: lots of costume changes, notable sets achieved with terrific carpenters, light and sound crews and computers.
Don't expect this to be the movie, which was shot on location in Austria. Enjoy what's here, and most emphatically, enjoy the sounds of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Also, trust me: it's okay to laugh and shed a tear or two.
Closing date is January 30. As I've written previously, the Maltz has turned itself into a mini-Kravis Center. Many "limited engagements," childrens' programs and other activities are to be seen and heard. For tickets and additional information, telephone 575-2223 or online: www.jupitertheatre.org.