Youthful Energy and Fine Performances Uphold The Sound of Music at Centennial Hall

Originating in Centennial Hall on the UA campus, The Sound of Music is spreading across the valley and echoing through our own hills, although they are quite different from the alpine ranges featured in Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's beloved musical.

Presenting group Broadway in Tucson has brought a really fine touring production of the musical our way, and its tale of children and their governess and their emotionally distant father take us on a trip with which many of us who were first introduced to its cinematic version in the mid-'60's are familiar. We revisit anew the growing attraction between the children's father, Captain Georg von Trapp, and their new nursemaid, who quite gently but persistently frees the children of the lifeless consequences of being left with a well-meaning but misguided father. And we are reminded of the alarming undercurrent of the tale: the growing menace in the form of Adolph Hitler, whose spreading power not only claims Austria for his empire, but espouses a dangerous nationalism in which many are deemed unfit and are targeted for destruction.

This version is full of fine performances. Anna Mintzer, who was subbing in the role of Maria opening night, was quite fine and almost avoided the overly optimistic, goody two-shoes nature of her character, especially after she marries the Captain, here capably played by Ben Davis. He sympathetically portrays a widower who clings to his late wife's memory, dooming his children to an unhappy childhood and depriving himself of their great affection.

All of the large cast exhibits great skill and convincing characterizations. Particularly outstanding are Merwin Foard as Max Detweiler and Melody Betts as the Mother Abbess. Her “Climb Every Mountain” would encourage the most shy and downcast among us to identify our dreams and put legs under them.

You can't have a Sound of Music without those cherubic children injecting youthful energy into the proceedings. Here we find a well-behaved and talented group including Paige Sylvester (Liesl); Ashley Brook (Louisa); Kyla Carter (Marta); Iris Davies (Brigitta); Roy Gantz (Friedrich); Austin Levine (Kurt); and Arizona native Anika Lore Hatch as Gretl. The tour must be an excellent kid wrangler, because although so often children tend to steal the show, this group is perfectly integrated.

The designers' work results in an excellent display of costumes, lighting and sound. Douglas W. Schmidt's set was OK, but offers a few puzzles. Why did the rose window in the Abbey look almost psychedelic? Why is a sort of cutout, doily motif framing much of the action? And why is the shifting scenery so loud at times? Sure, the colossal pieces are bound to produce some noise, but most times the noise is covered by the orchestra—or something. But here, that isn't always the case. Still, the set effectively suggests sites where the action is played out. The orchestra is conducted by Jay Alger, who is also musical director. The entire production is under the direction of Jack O'Brien.

The Sound of Music gives us a delightful and even substantive story, pleasing in many ways, and Broadway in Tucson and UA Presents has brought us a stellar production where the musical's many delights are convincingly displayed.

The Sound of Music, presented by Broadway in Tucson. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 30; 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1; 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 4. Centennial Hall, 1020 East University Boulevard on the UA campus. $29 - $100. Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes with intermission. 800-745-3000;