A Dreamlike “Sound of Music” at Masquerade

In the opening moments of Masquerade Theatre’s summer production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music,” the mystical “Preludium,” sung by the nuns in the abbey, has a dreamlike musical purity that is every inch a harbinger of things to come in director Phillip Duggins’ most recent Houston triumph. But the essence of this stunning production’s success is the sheer perfection of the youthful cast members who portray the seven children of stern Captain von Trapp. They are such an utter joy to watch and listen to, that on several occasions, the singing alone brought tears of happiness to the eyes of this former music teacher. It was absolute magic from a perfect cast.

For readers who may have been in a coma since the 1960’s, this is the tale of Maria, a young postulant at an Austrian abbey, and the journey of self-discovery that eventually takes the musically gifted young woman from the religious life, and her work as the Von Trapp governess, to her true destiny as wife of widowed Austrian naval Captain Georg von Trapp (dependably played by Masquerade veteran, Luther Chakurian), and mother to his seven very delightful children. The R&H score that escorts us on our way has never sounded better than in the hands of Duggins’ divine cast and superb seven-member Chamber Orchestra. If you are thinking, “Oh, I’ve seen ‘The Sound of Music’ too many times already,” you have never seen it like this, and I urge you not to miss it in this intimate venue that only seats a hundred patrons!

Talented Laura Gray, as Maria, brings a lovely voice, a surprising resemblance to actress, Juliet Prowse, and a joyful energy, to her opening number with the title tune. That ever-present joyful energy propels the production skyward throughout the show. The musical delights are abundant, particularly from the cast of nuns led by Katherine Randolph, Allison Sumrall, Kristina Sullivan, and Stephanie Bradow (as the Mother Abbess). Their delicious “Maria” is superb, as are their numerous Latin hymns and chants. Bradow’s mellow and uplifting “Climb Every Mountain” reaches the heights, and she joins Gray in a pleasing duet of “My Favorite Things,” just before we meet the children who anchor this memorable production.

I should mention that the five youngest actors I observed (Morgan MacInnes as Louisa, Stephanie Porter as Kurt, Caroline Leggett as Brigitta, Christen Leggett as Marta, and adorable Emma MacInnes as little Gretl) were members of the “green” youth cast. A second “blue” cast of youngsters rotates in alternate performances. Talented Luke Hamilton nicely plays the oldest boy, Friedrich, while a beaming and beautiful Monica Passley portrays the oldest girl, Leisl, with genuine warmth and impressive vocal skill. She is nicely paired with handsome Richard Hunt as the young Nazi courier. Their duet of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” has all the charms of young love, with its sweet flirtations and lovely choreography. Miss Gray designed the young cast’s numerous delightful dance sequences for numbers like the familiar “Do-Re-Mi,” a blissful “Lonely Goatherd,” and the plaintive “So Long, Farewell.” Fine lighting designs from Mr. Duggins, simple and effective set designs from David Higginbotham, and charming costumes from Bradow and “the Moms” all enhance the production. A large and talented supporting cast included Jay Tribble as good-humored Max, and Jennifer McCoy-Miller as sometimes-snooty Elsa. They amusingly spoof the upper classes in a fun-filled “How Can Love Survive?” Sullivan doubles nicely as housekeeper, Frau Schmidt, and pairs well with Higginbotham as the butler.

The rising terror of the Nazi Reich in Act II seems reminiscent of evil in our own time. More lush singing from the nuns accompanies a lovely wedding scene that breaks this tension as Maria marries von Trapp. Their love is not alone, as this production seems a labor of love in every way. Try not to miss it. There is enough joy here to add years to your life.

The Masquerade Theatre is located at 1537 N. Shepherd in the Heights. (Minutes from the Durham/N. Shepherd exit of loop 610). “Sound of Music” is currently rotating with the Masquerade production of “Chess,” through August 8th. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday,, Friday & Saturdays @ 8pm, with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for seniors/students. For information or reservations call 713-861-7045 or visit www.masqueradetheatre.com.

(The Courier    7.18.04)

About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), The International Theatre Critics Association, and America's oldest theatrical club, The Lambs, he also had long service as the editor of The Lambs' Script magazine. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.
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