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NME After Print: The Sound of Music

Jill-Christine Wiley as Maria Rainer and the von Trapp children. Photo by Matthew Murphy

I have a confession to make; whenever I think of The Sound of Music, my initial thought usually goes to the lengthy and somewhat giddy song, "The Lonely Goatherd." Of all the beautiful and far more well-known songs in the show, why that one is always the first that I think of is beyond me. But as I sat in the audience at Popejoy Hall and saw the curtain rise on the National Tour of Rodgers & Hammerstein's The Sound of Music, I was instantly reminded of the beauty and musical mastery that goes far beyond the lonely goatherd on his hill. Written in 1959 and set in 1938 Salzburg, Austria, the musical, with a book by Lindsay & Crouse, opens on the Nonnberg Abbey, where the young and free-spirited Maria, after a string of tardiness and rule-breaking, is sent by the Mother Abbess, portrayed enchantingly by Lauren Kidwell, to serve as the governess to the seven children of widower Georg Von Trapp, a Navy Captain. Jill-Christine Wiley's portrayal of Maria is youthful, hopeful, and full of an inner-strength and perseverance that the audience can see even before Maria is able to. Through the power of music and love, both things that have seemingly been missing in the Von Trapp's lives, Maria is able to win over the children and their father and become a part of the family. As the play progresses, that love, and the strength within it that knows no bounds, is tested by the looming shadow of World War II. As the Third Reich descends upon Austria and engulfs the country, it becomes apparent how courageous the simple act of love can be. This production was strikingly brought to life through the combination of incredible performers, an orchestra that perfectly captures the soaring score, and lighting and set designs, by Natasha Katz and Douglas W. Schmidt, respectively, that worked together to beautifully amplify the action onstage, and invite the audience into the world of the performance. From the rise of the curtain to its final fall, I was enthralled by everything that worked together to make this show an absolute masterpiece. The Sound of Music is one of those shows that many people can say they've seen, particularly the 1965 film version starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, and so audiences may think that there's nothing new to take away from it. But this production offers a realness and emotional strength that makes the story fresh and relevant. Every member of the cast is amazingly talented, and everyone works together to convey the love that is so central to the story line. Every harmony perfectly touches the audience and each performer brings a new life and spirit to the story. From Lauren Kidwell's portrayal of The Mother Abbess as a truly kind soul (with an incredible voice) that relates to Maria in a deeply moving way, to every single one of the young actors playing the Von Trapp children. It is clear that everyone onstage truly cares about the message of the musical, and that they want you to care too. And it is easy to care deeply, as this show is a testament to the strength of human morality and character. It is pertinent to the times in an incredibly humbling way, and it reminds us to take into account our own sense of morality. When the character Max says, "What's going to happen is going to happen, just make sure it doesn't happen to you", one cannot help but be chilled and haunted to the bone by the sentiment of forgetting about others in order to put yourself first. While not everything in the musical has aged well ("Sixteen Going On Seventeen" is truly cringe-inducing, despite being marvelously sung by Lauren O'Brien as Liesl and Hunter Brown as Rolf), the messages that are still relevant are moving and motivating. One scene in particular, where Captain Von Trapp, played with honesty and tenderness by Mike McLean, sings "Edelweiss" in front of the Nazi imagery that has taken over his country, was so chilling that the feeling it induced stayed with me long after the curtain closed. Every aspect of this production of The Sound of Music was carefully thought out and crafted - and it showed. It felt fresh, real, and ripe with relevance. It was clear to me that there was deep and heartfelt care at every level of the production. It was truly a wonderful experience to allow this show to take me away into its story. In every way, this was a completely captivating and enriching production - one that I would love to experience again. And The Lonely Goatherd sounded amazing. Rodgers & Hammerstein's The Sound of Music is playing at Popejoy Hall January 20th-27th. Tickets are available at

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