Dallas — If you’ve ever thrilled to the soaring notes of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” or the many other lovely songs in The Sound of Music, you have a wonderful opportunity to feel those chills again. Don’t miss the shimmering new revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein 1960 musical, directed with fresh styling by Jack O’Brien, in a tour stopping at the Music Hall at Fair Park, opening the 76th season for Dallas Summer Musicals.
The story, based on the musical von Trapp family saga, remains the same and the iconic tunes are all there—but this production has a youth and energy about it that brings it right into the moment. A great part of that is the warmth and clear singing voice of Kerstin Anderson in the role of Maria. The long-limbed young actress won the role while still a college student, and she’s totally believable as an eager, but over-exuberant postulant who warbles at the drop of the hat. She runs to the hills where she can sing freely in the iconic title song.
Ashley Brown, the magnificent mezzo who played Mary Poppins on Broadway (and was recently in town for a Dallas Symphony Orchestra Pops concert), is a wise and beautiful Mother Abbess, and her duets with Anderson’s Maria are natural and moving. When they sing “My Favorite Things,” you see their kinship. When the Mother Abbess advises Maria to find her own happiness in “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” everybody, kids and grown-ups alike, clapped their hands and cheered. Great musical song and glowing delivery. The nuns in the abbey also make a truly joyful noise when they sing the opening Preludium, their voices blending in praise as we see the abbey’s high arches reflected on a lighted scrim in Douglas W. Schmidt’s huge and handsome set design, that includes handsome mansion interiors and grand mountain vistas.
When Maria leaves the convent to become the governess of the seven over-disciplined, under-hugged and snarky von Trapp children, her playfulness and love of singing gradually win over even the most resistant. All the children are terrific actors and singers, from the moment they learn their “Do-Re-Mi” from their new nanny, to the lovely variations on those notes and “The Lonely Goatherd,” sung as they all gather on and around Maria’s bed while thunder rolls and lightning flashes through her attic window.
Each child has a distinct personality, and director O’Brien (who also directs the Dallas Opera’s current world premiere of Great Scott) gives each one a chance to step into the spotlight to deliver a song or a line or two. Their singing gets better and better, so that by the time we get to the lovely good night song “So Long, Farewell,” we’re totally taken in by their buoyant energy and Danny Mefford’s delightful choreography for this piece, and all dance moves in the show.
Soprano Paige Silvester is lithe and sweetly on the brink as the eldest daughter Liesl, especially singing “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” in her duet with delivery boy Rolf (Dan Tracy).
Teri Hanson is a svelte and sophisticated Elsa Schrader, the rich woman angling to become Mrs. von Trapp, and Merwin Foard is a funny, devil-may-care Max Detweiler, the family friend who believes it’s better for Austrians to play along with the Nazis as the officers move into the country. Hanson and Foard deliver the satiric “There’s No Way to Stop It” with a perfectly civilized shrug.
The love affair that grows over the course of the show between Maria and the long-widowed Captain Georg von Trapp (the distinguished-looking strong baritone Ben Davis) is a convincing union of spirits. Maria loves music and is shocked to realize she may love a man as well; the grief-numbed widower is brought back to life and love by music and an honest, optimistic girl.
Jane Greenwood’s elegant period costumes have all the right details, from the softly glowing palette of gowns at the dance to the crisp white sailor dresses and suits the children wear. Even the gold and purple play clothes Maria makes for her charges from old curtains are bright and fun—just like this sparkling show.