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REVIEW: THE SOUND OF MUSIC — Musical Theatre West @ Carpenter Performing Arts Center

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

“You are the twelfth in a long line of governesses who have come here to look after my children since their mother died. I trust you will be an improvement on the last one. She stayed only two hours.”


OCTOBER 21, 2023—LONG BEACH


Amid much fanfare, pageantry and opulence — as well as a packed auditorium — Musical Theatre West launched its final production of the 2023 season this past Saturday night with “The Sound of Music” at their resident venue, The Richard & Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center at California State University in Long Beach. It was magnificent.


Larger than life set pieces paired with a Broadway-caliber cast of over 40 members (featuring an effervescent Juliana Sloan as Maria and a stoic Jonathan von Mering as Captain von Trapp) brings the story of hope, love, and kindness to life, as the musical's romantic Alpine-flavored score (music by Richard Rogers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II) soared through the assemblage, dispensing animated and high-spirited favorites, such as “The Sound of Music,” “My Favorite Things,” “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” and ”Do-Re-Mi.”


Juliana Sloan in Musical Theatre West's production of The Sound of Music, Now Playing at Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach

Musically directed by Dennis Castellano (2022: R&H “Cinderella”), book by Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse, and directed by Wayne Bryan, who brings shimmering novelty to the familiar piece’s look and sound, Deborah Roberts’ gorgeous, 1930’s costumes create a dazzling palette of beauty to behold. The musical is set to run through November 5th to massive acclaim.


A chorus of heavenly-sounding nuns, bathed in light and shadow, breathtakingly open the show, led by an amazing Sarah Wolter as the Mother Abbess, as they raise their angelic voices in a resplendent hymn that bookends this musical.


It is 1938, and as the oncoming German threat looms in the near distance, Maria is reassigned by Reverend Mother Abbess to become the new governess for Mr. Mering’s Naval Captain Georg von Trapp. A widower who seems to have lost any sense of joy, the oft cold Captain runs his household with a strict, stern demeanor, whistling for his children and staff as if in command of one of his previous ocean vessels.


Initially intimidated by the assignment, Maria quickly takes to the role of looking after the children, whom she adores immediately. The children — who previously hated and tortured every nanny they've had before — warm up to Maria just as fast. She teaches them how to sing, comforts them by giving them shelter from the sounds of loud thunder via a song about a yodeling goat herder, and becomes their friend and mentor.


The Company in Musical Theatre West's production of The Sound of Music, Now Playing at Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach

As predictable as any rom-com, Captain von Trapp and Maria seem to butt heads on almost everything at first, especially the way he treats his own children, who, in her words, "just want to be loved." The Captain quickly realizes Maria's real value, however, and soon they both begin to have amative feelings, which triggers a break-up in the pending nuptials of the Captain and her rival, the Baroness Elsa von Schraeder (played by award-winning Broadway veteran Meghan Andrews), who may have wondered at times, “How DO you solve a problem like Maria, anyway?”


But let’s face it: a cheery, outspoken, child-friendly, music-loving, positive-thinking, curtains-into-clothes-making nun-governess like Maria could steal the heart of nearly anyone. So, the stately Elsa seems to have all the odds stacked against her.


In spite of Elsa’s best efforts to remind the Captain he has a luxe, quick-witted, (perhaps a little tetchy at times) diva who’d jump at the chance to be his life partner, the Captain continues inching toward his children’s nanny, known endearingly as “a flibbertigibbet” back at the Abbey. And, when the Baroness’s last ditch effort (paired with caustically sophisticated funny man Brian Kim McCormick as Max Detweiler) to dazzle the Captain with a fancy party backfires — was that Nazi Herr Zeller (Damon Kirsche) on the invitation list? — it became a blessing in disguise. The children are then notably recognized by Max as a credible entry into the local music festival contest in which the whole family performs a disappearing act from the Nazis.


Niles Gray, Blakely Amador, Lola Buckland, Rachel Beard, Juliana Sloan, Erin Dubreuil, Bellami Soleil Smith, Brennan Esguerra in Musical Theatre West's production of The Sound of Music, Now Playing at Carpenter Performing Arts Center

The kids are sweet and precocious, especially Bellamie Soleil Smith’s Brigitta (alternating with Maisie Magdlen Oliveros), Niles Gray’s Kurt (alternating with Brady Barrett), and a darling Blakely Amador (alternating with Becca Last) as little Gretl. The oldest, Liesl (Erin Dubreuil in a wonderful performance), has a romance with neighbor Rolf (Brandon Keith Rogers), a sort-of good Nazi. And the two of them radiate in a spotlight with “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” despite the somewhat chauvinistic lyrics (in 1959 when it opened on Broadway, it was egregiously still a “man’s world”). Their lithe dancing is choreographer Christine Negherbon’s best opportunity to do her thing.


Three scenes typically receive the greatest anticipation: The moment when Ms. Sloan’s Maria is finally kissed by her employer, Captain von Trapp (the handsome, aristocratic Jonathan von Mering); the first act finale, when the unusually maternal Mother Abbess (Ms. Wolter in her MTW debut) brings a soulful operatic sound to the show’s anthem, “Climb Ev’ry Mountain;” and the neatly done interplay of kids and teacher in “Do Re Mi,” in which you get the feeling that those seven von Trapp children — raised by their strict, mournfully detached father, who has forbidden music in the house — are really being taught the basics of singing that will ultimately save their lives.


In addition, Jacqueline Dennis and Holly Santiago are excellent as Sisters Margaretta and Sophia, while character actress Cathy Newman does double duty, bringing bite and humor to feisty Sister Berthe, and turning in a fine, layered performance as the Captain’s devoted house maid, Frau Schmidt (accompanied by Franz, the Butler – Kevin Symons).


Juliana Sloan and Jonathan von Mering in Musical Theatre West's production of The Sound of Music, Now Playing at Carpenter Performing Arts Center

Director Bryan has seen to everything. And it is full of spectacle, beauty, realistic characterizations and gorgeous music. It not only fills the stage with unmatched sights and sounds, it feels real and very intimate. There’s never a moment when the story isn’t moving forward. Each component of Adam Koch’s gorgeous set design seamlessly melds into the next, with everything bathed in Paul Black’s ethereal illumination.


Yes, the hills are still definitely alive in Long Beach, as Musical Theatre West presents one of the most glorious musicals of all time — “The Sound of Music” — a world phenomenon loved by all, a musical that continues to be viewed and enjoyed by all ages together, nearly 65 years after its Broadway debut.


CAST:

Juliana Sloan - Maria Rainer; Jonathan von Mering - Captain von Trapp; Sarah Wolter - Mother Abbess; Cathy Newman - Frau Schmidt/Sister Berthe; Brandon Keith Rogers - Rolf; Erin Dubreuil - Liesl; Brian Kim McCormick - Max Detweiler; Meghan Andrews - Elsa Schraeder; Jacqueline Dennis - Sister Margaretta/Ensemble Holly Santiago - Sister Sophia/Ensemble; Christine Negherbon - Ensemble/Dance Captain; Eleen Hsu-Wentlandt - Ensemble; Katie Brown - Ensemble; Natalie Gissel - Ensemble; Tucker Boggs - Ensemble; Kevin Symons - Franz; Chuck Saculla - Admiral von Schreiber/Baron Elberfeld; Damon Kirsche - Herr Zeller; Adam Lendermon - Ensemble; Danny Bernardo - Ensemble; Brennan Jacob Esguerra - Friedrich (Edelweiss Cast); Josh Protzmann - Friedrich (Do Re Mi Cast); Rachel Beard - Luisa (Edelweiss Cast); Adrienne Amanda Morrow - Luisa (Do Re Mi Cast); Niles Gray - Kurt (Edelweiss Cast); Brady Barrett - Kurt (Do Re Mi Cast); Bellami Soleil Smith - Brigitta (Edelweiss Cast); Maisie Magdalen Oliveros - Brigitta (Do Re Mi Cast); Lola Buckland - Marta (Edelweiss Cast); Abigail Barnaby - Marta (Do Re Mi Cast); Blakely Amador - Gretl (Edelweiss Cast); Becca Last - Gretl (Do Re Mi Cast); Ashleigh Kovach - Nun Chorus; Brianna Liddi - Nun Chorus; Mikki Pagdonsolan - Nun Chorus; Jennifer Kersey - Nun Chorus; Andrea Lara - Nun Chorus; Gabrielle Tresler - Nun Chorus; Lauren Han - Nun Chorus; Briana Bonilla - Nun Chorus; Brook Lord - Nun Chorus; Rachel Holbrook - Nun Chorus; Taj Young - Nun Chorus; Joy Weiser - Nun Chorus; LisaMarie Jenkin - Nun Chorus


Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse; Music by Richard Rodgers; Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II; Suggested by “The Trapp Family Singers” by Maria Augusta Trapp, Direction by Wayne Bryan, Music Direction by Dennis Castellano; Choreography by Christine Negherbon; Scenic Design by Adam Koch; Lighting Design by Paul Black; Sound Design by Julie Ferrin; Properties by Steve Banneck; Costume Design by Deborah Roberts; Wig Design by Anthony Gaguardi; Stage Managed by Jill Gold.


Musical Theatre West Presents, "The Sound of Music," as their Final Production of the 2023 Season. October 20 - November 5, 2023, at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center on the CSU Long Beach campus. Fridays, Saturdays at 8PM; Sunday at 1PM Oct 22; Sunday at 1PM & 6PM Oct 29; Thursday at 7:30PM Oct 26; Saturday at 2PM, Oct 28 & Nov 4; Tickets are available starting at $20 on https://musical.org/ or call 562-856-1999.




Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report




Photo Credits: Caught in the Moment Photography










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