Sunday, May 16, 2010

"The Perfect Family Summer Musical"

Posted by Bruce Miller
The extraordinary musical that brings down the curtain on both the Barksdale and Theatre IV Seasons earned its first rave review this morning from Susie Haubenstock. She LOVED it, writing a review almost as glowing as last week's review of Henley Street Theatre's A Doll's House.

Considering that The Sound of Music is America's favorite musical, and that pre-sales in advance of opening have already hit a record high, I strongly urge everyone to get their tickets to 1938 Austria as soon as possible. I'm convinced that the Times-Dispatch review will be only the first of several great notices. No one should miss out on the fun.

Here's what Susie has to say:

"What does it take to revive Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music? Seven adorable children -- check. A Maria who's full of fun and energy and sings like an angel -- check. A Mother Abbess with a thrilling, inspiring voice -- check.

The new Theatre IV/Barksdale Theatre co-production at the Empire Theatre has all that and much, much more. Under the ebullient direction of Chase Kniffen, The Sound of Music is the perfect family summer musical, with much for each generation to love.

Even after a thousand viewings of the movie, it's possible to forget that there are serious political themes here, as well as grown-up relationships. Rodgers and Hammerstein were romantics, of course, but the Howard Lindsay/Russel Crouse book takes on Nazism, patriotism, pragmatism, moral relativism and religious faith -- and the show won the 1960 Tony Award to boot.

No need to recap the moving story of the von Trapp family in Austria; suffice it to say that Kniffen has reinvigorated what might be a saccharine bore and infused it with youthful enthusiasm. Most of the underpinnings are lush, from Brian Barker's opulent set to Sarah Grady's charming costumes to Lynne M. Hartman's beautiful lighting.

The orchestra, under Sandy Dacus' direction, is almost full enough, sounding thin only on the first-act finale, Climb Ev'ry Mountain, and Derek Dumais' sound design is nearly perfect despite its complexity.

The splendid cast is led by the delightful Stacey Cabaj as Maria, who bursts with warmth and joy and sings clear as a chapel bell. Jody Ashworth plays Captain von Trapp with admirable liveliness but a near-total lack of romantic appeal; nevertheless, his voice is stirring, his Edelweiss moving.

Susan Sanford and Michael Hawke are perfectly cast as the worldly Elsa and Max, more wryly lovable than despicable, and Kara Charise Harman provides that fabulous voice for Mother Abbess, as well as her loving manner.

All seven von Trapp children are delightful -- Ali Thibodeau, Eric Pastore, McKelvey Ewing Harrison, Cooper Timberline, Meghan Rose Cordner, Sydney Morgan Hall and Ellie Wilson -- and nowhere is Kniffen's deft touch more evident than in their performances; he elicits great work from young actors. His deceptively simple staging of The Lonely Goatherd is one of the highlights of the show.

All but the youngest kids in the audience were kept entertained by the 2½-hour show. My grandma took me to see The Sound of Music when I was little, and I've always been grateful. Given this lovely production, any grandma -- or mom, or dad, or aunt or big brother -- shouldn't hesitate to do the same."

Susan Haubenstock - The Richmond Times-Dispatch

You can reach our box office at 282-2620. I hope to hear from you soon. And I look forward to seeing you at the theatre.

--Bruce Miller

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