Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review of SHOUT! The Mod Musical
The plot of The Sound of Music is well-known, but in case you need a refresher, the musical is set in Austria in 1938 and follows the story of postulant Maria who is assigned to serve as a governess for a naval captain's seven children once it seems a religious life isn't in her future. The Captain and Maria find themselves falling in love just as the Nazi regime is about to invade Austria. They must find a way for their family to escape before the Captain is forced back into service under the Nazis.
Rodgers' rich musical compositions, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse's succinct book, and Hammerstein's vivid lyrics provide the right balance of comedy, romance and drama, as well as one of the most well-known inspirational songs ever written, "Climb Ev'ry Mountain." The Oscar-winning 1965 film adaptation added some new songs and cut others that were originally in the Broadway production which, over the years, has resulted in several different stage versions of the musical being produced. I believe I've seen three different versions in the past 10 years that either include one or two of the songs written for the film or eliminate one or all of the songs the movie cut. Zao is presenting the version I think works the best, which adds in the two songs written for the movie, Maria's solo "I Have Confidence" and the film love duet "Something Good," but keeps the two songs that were cut for the film that add depth to the supporting characters of Elsa and Max, "How Can Love Survive?" and "No Way to Stop It." It also preserves the original placement of the songs "Do-Re-Mi" and "The Lonely Goatherd." While most theatregoers might be more familiar with the script and order of the songs in the film, and find themselves a little confused by the inclusion of the songs that were cut for the movie, I believe this version provides the best of both the original production and the film adaptation.
There isn't a weak link in this cast. Rebecca Bryce is perfect as Maria. She beautifully depicts the journey Maria takes throughout the musical, from the young woman who is spunky yet unsure of her place in the world to the woman who finds herself confused by the emotional connection she has with the Captain and who grows and learns from the experience. Bryce delivers a wonderful, natural connection with the seven young actors who play the Captain's children as well as a realistic connection with Bryan Stewart who plays Captain von Trapp, which is only fitting since Bryce and Stewart are a couple in real life. Bryce's warm singing voice provides winning performances of her numerous songs in the show.
As the Captain, Bryan Stewart has the appropriate level of seriousness and strictness that work perfectly for a man who is a widower, feels more at home at sea, and doesn't quite know the right way to raise his children. But Stewart also shows us how the Captain changes over the course of the show, as the time he spends with Maria softens his stern exterior and makes him realize how to love again. Like Bryce, he has a wonderful connection with the youth actors who play the Captain's children and his rich, deep singing voice works well, especially during his big solo in "Edelweiss."
With a singing voice that resonates with emotion on "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," Melissa VanSlyke is very good as the Mother Abbess, though she also shows us that there is a softer and fun side to her character in the gentle yet direct moments she has with Maria and the charming duet they share of "My Favorite Things." The character of Elsa, the woman the Captain is seeing when Maria first arrives to serve as the governess for his children, is less calculating and biting in the stage musical than how she is depicted in the film, and Lauren Tye beautifully illustrates the intelligence of this smart, world-wise woman, with a bright singing voice that derives beautiful notes on her songs. As Max, the Captain's friend who provides plenty of humor and comedy to the story, Tyler Galley is appropriately playful and charming.
The children are double cast and for the performance I attended the Captain's children were played by Devorah Joyce, Laine Bombard, Eliana Anglada, Thomas Dietz, Campbell Carr, Kaylee Forth and Sadie Holdeman, with Ryley Hansen as Rolf, the messenger boy. All deliver winning stage performances, with the seven youth actors who play the von Trapp children forming a realistic family unit. Joyce, as the Captain's oldest daughter Liesl, and Hansen share a lovely duet of "Sixteen Going on Seventeen," and Carr, as Brigitta, delivers a beautiful, no-nonsense portrayal of the young girl who is smart beyond her years. Randi Jill, Lynanne Cottle, and Anna Sera form a tight trio as the disapproving nuns, and the women in the large ensemble cast harmonize together beautifully and deliver some stirring vocals as the nuns at the Abbey. Their final reprise of "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" is like a wall of rich sound that soars over the audience.
Director Michael Bryce beautifully manages to deliver on the many beloved moments in the show, both the comical and serious ones, while making sure the show, which features a large group of children and a story that is dramatic but humorous at times, never crosses the line into being overly sentimental or schmaltzy. He also makes great use of Zao's large stage space for the party scene toward the end of the first act.
Michael Snyder's music direction achieves some gorgeous harmonies, especially in the large group numbers, and the sound design from John Schoenwolf makes every lyric and line of dialogue crystal clear. The choreography by Ashley Harkey is fine, although the dance for "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" is unnecessarily busy. J. Michael Sanders' set design is simple but effective, with areas on the sides of the stage that open up for the scenes in Maria's bedroom and the Mother Abbess' office. The vibrant video projections by Michael Bryce provide lush visuals on the three large video screens. Costumes by Diana Grubb and Jacki Marin work well to depict the period and style of the piece, and Bob Nelson and Sharyn Sheffer's lighting design does a good job of portraying the various times of day in the piece as well.
Zao's The Sound of Music is an almost perfect production of one of the most beloved musicals of all time.
Zao is adhering to local and state guidelines concerning safety measures for this production, with masks required by audience members and all seats socially distanced.
The Sound of Music runs through April 17, 2021, at Zao Theatre, 550 South Ironwood Drive, Apache Junction AZ. You can get information and tickets at www.zaotheatre.com or by calling 602-320-3275.
Director/Media Design: Michael E. Bryce