REVIEW: “THE SOUND OF MUSIC” —La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts & McCoy Rigby Entertainment

Updated: May 1

A Story of Music Bringing People Together


Who says you can’t buy happiness? As long as La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and McCoy Rigby Entertainment’s “The Sound of Music” is playing, you can. And that’s going to be for at least three more weekends.


So don’t wait. Don’t deprive yourself of the pleasure a moment longer than necessary. Run, do not walk, to the nearest laptop and get your tickets.


With music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, and a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, the musical is based on the 1949 memoir of Maria von Trapp, "The Story of the Trapp Family Singers." In a magnificently mounted production, La Mirada Theatre now brings it to the stage through May 15th, directed by Glenn Casale, musically directed by Dennis Castellano and choreographed by Arthur L. Ross.


The original Broadway production, starring Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel, opened in 1959 winning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It was then adapted as a 1965 film musical starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, which won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Unfortunately, it was the last musical written by the team of Rodgers and Hammerstein; Oscar Hammerstein died of stomach cancer nine months after the Broadway premiere.


Jenna Lea Rosen, Weston Bagley, Ashley Gallo, Oliver Stewart, Alma Marian, Erin Choi, Kayla Anjali and Diane Phelan star in the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts/McCoy Rigby Entertainment production of “THE SOUND OF MUSIC” - Directed by Glenn Casale and now playing at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts.

But the 20th-Fox release was one of movies’ all-time hits. It restored your faith in humanity. It does this with infectious wit, with consistent gaiety, with simple and realistic spirituality, with romance of heartbreak and heart-mend.


There are also many reasons why the Broadway musical, from the lilting intelligence of Rodgers and Hammerstein, was such an enthralling success. But if Maria Rainer von Trapp had not existed, R&H might have invented her, so snugly did she fit their mold of the resilient innocent in a foreign land with a brood of children to teach (think "The King and I").


Cory Lingner and Jenna Lea Rosen star in the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts/McCoy Rigby Entertainment production of “THE SOUND OF MUSIC” - Directed by Glenn Casale and now playing at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts

Set in Austria on the eve of the Anschluss in 1938, the musical tells the story of Maria, who takes a job as governess to a large family while she decides whether to become a nun. She falls in love with the children, and eventually their widowed father, Captain von Trapp. The captain was a hero in the Austrian navy, runs his home on military lines, and his five girls and two boys exercise their rebellion by tormenting a string of governesses. Maria is the first to defeat them. She does it with spunkiness and subtle charm, teaching them to live and love. She also makes a conquest of the captain, unaware to even herself, and ends up to be Baroness von Trapp.


The good captain is ordered to accept a commission in the German navy, but he opposes the Nazis, and after they are married, he and Maria decide to flee Austria with the children. Many songs from the musical have since become standards, including the favorites "Edelweiss," "My Favorite Things," "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," Do-Re-Mi," and of course the title song, "The Sound of Music."


Diane Phelan and Kayla Anjali (center) star with the company in the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts/McCoy Rigby Entertainment production of “THE SOUND OF MUSIC” - Directed by Glenn Casale and now playing at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts

Maria, here, is played by Diane Phelan, who is making quite a name for herself in film as well as on Broadway (“School of Rock,” “West Side Story”). She’s got all you need for the role and then some. Not only a star, she is the whole whirling, dazzling constellation!


Diane Phelan (far left), Christopher Carl (center) with Jenna Lea Rosen and Joanne Javien (far right) star with the company in the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts/McCoy Rigby Entertainment production of “THE SOUND OF MUSIC” - Directed by Glenn Casale and now playing at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts

But how do you solve a problem like Maria, who seems too kind and sweet for words? With the production’s hyperbolic tone, an actor could hardly choose to underplay. So then how does one keep from tipping into excess? Ms. Phelan understands she has big shoes to fill, and solves this problem by focusing on what makes the show great—its songs. If you lend it a fresh ear, there’s no denying the clever poetry of the lyric and its infectious three-quarter time. And, when Diane Phelan is singing her heart out center stage, the show levitates no matter how flawless her character might be.


She is given a strong assist by Christopher Carl (Broadway: “South Pacific,” “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”) as Captain von Trapp, and Suzanna Guzman (Broadway: “The King and I,” PBS Series Host –“Open Call”) as Mother Abbess. A musical theater veteran, Mr. Carl portrays von Trapp more as a grieving widow than a mindless martinet, making his character more relatable.


The Company of the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts/McCoy Rigby Entertainment production of “THE SOUND OF MUSIC” - Directed by Glenn Casale and now playing at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts

Here, he’s a gentle von Trapp, and naturally radiant—not what you’re expecting. When pragmatic businesswoman Elsa (Joanne Javien) becomes poised to marry the widowed von Trapp, it temporarily depletes the show of romantic intrigue, and what passes between Mr. Carl’s Captain von Trapp and Ms. Javien’s Elsa isn’t quite the strongest chemistry, despite affection so demonstrative that younger teens in the audience giggle. But very soon, that sparkle is back in the captain's eye upon Maria's return. And it does makes sense that this fundamental musical man would glow when he finally sings, which the golden-throated Mr. Carl does with ample wattage. His rendition of “Edelweiss” in the face of Nazi oppression registers warmly in the singer’s resounding baritone voice.


Diane Phelan and Suzanna Guzmán star in the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts/McCoy Rigby Entertainment production of “THE SOUND OF MUSIC” - Directed by Glenn Casale and now playing at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts

A strong performance by The Mother Abbess is also notable, although she's only given a couple of scenes, which are mainly of the mother-hen variety. But she delivers one of the show’s most memorable tunes, the inspirational anthem “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” in her soul-lifting operatic mezzo soprano voice.


To me, there is no character more important to this musical than The Mother Abbess: "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" ends both acts for goodness sake. Suzanna Guzman was born to play this role, as her voice absolutey soars during one of the most gorgeous Broadway songs that exists.


Roland Ponce Rusinek nearly steals every scene he’s in as cynical fop Max Detweiler, an impresario of irrepressible wit. Teamed with Ms. Javien as the wealthy Elsa, the pair provides the evening’s comic relief with witty comebacks and the acerbic song, “No Way To Stop It.”


But the kids are the soul of the show, which is perhaps the ultimate family musical. For the record, the adorably engaging brood is played by Jenna Lea Rosen, Weston Bagley, Ashley Gallo, Oliver Stewart, Alma Marian, Erin Yoonsuh Choi, and Kayla Anjali, with Cory Lingner on the edges as Liesl’s beau Rolf. The young couple's dance sequence in a gazebo on the villa grounds during a rainy night becomes intimate and fragile as young love blossoms (“Sixteen Going on Seventeen”).


Christopher Carl (Back Left), Weston Bagley, Jenna Lea Rosen, Alma Marian, Ashley Gallo, Erin Choi, Oliver Stewart Kayla Anjali and Diane Phelan (Back right), star in the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts/McCoy Rigby Entertainment production of “THE SOUND OF MUSIC” - Directed by Glenn Casale and now playing at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts

In the movie, Maria sings “My Favorite Things” to soothe the children in a storm, but in the stage version the scene has been reconceived with the number, “The Lonely Goatherd.” “My Favorite Things” comes early in the show, with Maria meeting with the sympathetic Mother Abbess. Like “Do-Re-Mi,” both numbers makes you smile as the energy cycles up smoothly, almost naturally, and the singing is lovely.


"The Sound of Music"—One of the most popular musicals ever written for the stage. It never seems to outgrow its welcome. It’s like a fairy tale told and sung at bedtime by the sweetest mother. And right now, over 60 years after its Broadway premiere, that fable still has a nurturing impact. For thousands of theatergoers at La Mirada Theatre, the thrills are alive with "The Sound of Music."


LA MIRADA THEATRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS AND MCCOY RIGBY ENTERTAINMENT, PRESENT, THE SOUND OF MUSIC; Performing April 22ND – May 15th; Music RICHARD ROGERS; Lyrics OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN II; Book HOWARD LINDSAY AND RUSSEL CROUSE; Director GLENN CASALE; Conductor/Musical Director DENNIS CASTELLANO; Choreographer ARTHUR L. ROSS; Production Stage Manager JILL GOLD; Assistant Stage Manager LISA PALMIRE; Dance Captain JENNA LEA ROSEN; Production Management ANA LARA, LINDSAY BROOKS AND DAVID NESTOR; Scenic Designer ADAM KOCH; Costume Designer DEBORAH ROBERTS; Lighting Designer JARED A. SAYEG; Sound Designer JOSH BESSOM; Hair/Wig/Makeup Designer KAITLIN YAGEN; Casting JULIA FLORES; Technical Director KEVIN CLOWES; General Manager PATTI McCOY JACOB; Marketing ROBERT SWEIBEL CONSULTING; Publicist DAVID ELZER/DEMAND PR.

WITH: KAYLA ANJALI; WESTON BAGLEY; ELIZABETH CAMPBELL; JANNA CARDIA; ERIN YOONSUH CHOI; CHELLE DENTON; MATTHEW C. GARCIA; ASHLEY GALLO; GORDON GOODMAN; LINDA GRIFFIN; SUZANNA GUZMAN; CHRISTOPHER HESTER; GRANT HODGES; JOANNE JAVIEN; RAEGAN NICHOLE LARSON; ADAM LENDERMON; CORY LINGNER; ALMA MARIAN; CARTER MICHAEL; EMILIE ONG; MONIKA PENA; JENNA LEA ROSEN; BRAD RUPP; ROLAND PONCE RUSINEK; ERICA SCHAEFFER; OLIVER STEWART; KEVIN SYMONS; GINA VELEZ; JENNIFER LEIGH WARREN.


THE NUNS OF NONNBERG ABBEY: MADDY BERRY; STEPHANIE BULL; TIANNA LOUISE COHEN; YADIRA DEL RINCON; REBECCA FRECHETTE; CHRISTINE GILLIAN; JULIE GOOD; AMANDA GREIG; ELLA MARDIROSSIAN; JODI MARKS; HILLARY MEAD; JESSICA ORDAZ; LAUREN SHOEMAKER; ERIN TIERNEY; RAYMOND ZACHARY.

La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and McCoy Rigby Entertainment continues performances on April 29, 30, May 6, 7, 13 and 14 at 8:00PM; May 1, 8 and 15 at 6:30PM; May 5, 12 at 7:30PM; May 12 at 1:00PM; May 1, 8 and 15 at 1:30PM; April 30, May 7 and 14 at 2:00PM. 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, CA 90638; Season Tickets and Box Office: Email boxoffice@lamiradatheatre.com or Phone (562) 944-9801; Tickets Online at: https://lamiradatheatre.com/



Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report

www.theshowreport.org

PHOTO CREDIT: Jason Niedle