After a long absence from Texas, it was a special treat for me to be back in time for a very splendid The Sound of Music production presented last weekend by Class Act and its Founder/Artistic Director, Keith Brumfield. This show would be one more proof that the Woodlands Township has chosen wisely in its recent selection of Brumfield as a Woodlands Hometown Hero. This familiar tale of the Von Trapp family in 1930’s Austria is widely known. A widower and naval officer, Capt. Von Trapp (Callen Myers) has seven adorable children that he often leaves in the care of a governess when he is on the High Seas. One such governess, Maria (Isabelle Yost), is a novice nun on loan from the local Abbey. She discovers the singing talent of the children, while winning the hearts of both them and their father. The rising tide of the Nazis and a brief love triangle for the Captain propel the plot of this Rodgers & Hammerstein musical masterpiece.
After 16 glorious seasons of wonderful productions from Class Act, if one had to select a Broadway musical title to summarize its success, “The Sound of Music,” would be a fitting choice. That was abundantly clear in this show with its countless gifted vocalists of all ages. As the opening church bells chimed, there was a mystical candle-lit procession of the nuns that crisscrossed the audience with heavenly voices as they sang the lovely “Praeludium.” Moments later we are transported to a lush Austrian mountaintop where Maria is late returning to the Abbey having lost track of time as she sings the beautiful title song. Miss Yost’s beaming joy and velvet voice allowed her to nicely fill the empty stage single-handedly. Back at the Abbey we meet another extraordinary voice as Patti Rascon portrays the Mother Abbess and joins three of her nuns (portrayed by Kameryn Mattingly, Ansley Wood, and Abby Tozer) as they cheerfully sing of how to solve a problem like “Maria.” When Maria finally arrives, Yost and Rascon have a delightful duet of “My Favorite Things” that would have been a success on any stage. Yost follows with an, “I Have Confidence,” that is full of Maria’s shining optimism, and oh— what a final high note!
The Mother Abbess determines that Maria is not yet ready for the full commitment of the religious life and sends her off to be the governess for the Captain’s children. Arriving at his elegant home (set designer, Jonathan Shelledy), Maria discovers he is a harsh disciplinarian with his children. This brings us to a central success story of this production. The children (Amelia Eskridge as Liesl, Jack Whitney as Friedrich, Emily Moses as Louisa, Andersen McDaniel as Kurt, Emma Thompson as Brigitta, Riley Mitchell as Marta, and Amber Navarra as Gretl) are the best example of perfect casting in my recent memory.
They each have a very natural stage presence and are not only beautiful to look at, but they have voices of pure gold to boot. As I listened to the elegant simplicity of their utterly charming, “Do-Re-Mi,” it was one of those moments when I could not believe my good fortune to be present for something so absolutely wonderful. It literally brought a tear to my eye.
The pleasures continued with the budding of young love between Liesl and a handsome young German courier named Rolf (Lucas Champagne-Aves). The two duet sublimely for one of the show’s sweetest delights, “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” Their love-struck dancing was an added joy, with Miss Eskridge’s considerable ballet skills on full display (Choreography by Tony Smith). The thunder and lightning storm that followed (sound engineer, Aly Alexander, lighting designer, Blake Minor) sent the children racing to Maria’s room for protection. Her yodeling skills cheer them as they all dance and sing the perky and delightful, “Lonely Goatherd.”
Next we meet the Captain’s visiting guests, the witty and amusing Max (comically portrayed by Brad Brickhouse), and the wealthy snob, Elsa (Andrea Czobor) who has set her sights on the Captain as her future husband. All the Laurie Lewis costume designs for this production are quite lovely, and the elegant gowns for Elsa were especially eye-catching. Czobor’s singing voice was impressive as well, evidenced by Elsa’s solid, “How Can Love Survive?” number as she dances gaily with Max and the Captain. The rich resonance of Mr. Myers voice is revealed when he tenderly joins the children’s reprise of the title song.
When the Captain hosts a grand ball at home the elegant formal costumes abound as the guests waltz beautifully in shadowy silhouette. The Captain, meanwhile, shares a charming folk dance with Maria as their love for one another becomes more evident. The children say good-night to the guests with the enchanting, “So Long, Farewell,” and beaming young Mr. Whitney does a bit of scene stealing when he hits a high note so pure that the audience burst into spontaneous applause. But he was not alone as a scene-stealer as Miss Rascon proved when she sang a flawless and stunning “Climb Every Mountain,” to close Act I.
Act II opened with the fine Entr’acte Music from conductor, Rae Moses and his talented orchestra. Throughout the performance they were pleasantly ever-present, but never overwhelmed the fine voices of the cast. Less pleasant were the parents and children right behind me who appeared oblivious to theatre etiquette and continuously created a disturbance with their chatter and the noisy rattling of snack packages. But Maria and the Captain soon improved my mood as they sang the lovely, “Something Good.” Of course their beautiful wedding scene would soon follow with a grand procession through the audience.
Max enters the Von Trapp Family in the Carlsberg Music Festival and the victory there allows their safe escape over the mountains just as the Nazis prepare to force the Captain into service with the navy of the Third Reich. Then it was all smiles from the standing ovation of the audience. Woodlands resident, Mattie Tabor was in attendance with her daughter, Ruthellen, and granddaughter, Baylie. She explained her favorite song was “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” because that was just how she met her late husband, Bob, before they shared 63 happy years of marriage.