There's no way around it. While watching 3D Theatricals' largely pleasing stage production of the enduring Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein II Broadway classic THE SOUND OF MUSIC—now playing at the Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton, CA through February 26—one can't help but be reminded of just how great the more popular, Oscar®-winning movie musical version truly is compared to its parental stage roots.
Though by its own merits, the stage version of THE SOUND OF MUSIC (first produced on Broadway in 1959) is itself a triumph of song, story and theatricality, all of which contributed significantly to its later, much more beloved 1965 film adaptation. But, unfortunately, the side-effect of seeing a fully-mounted stage production of that film's original theatrical source material is the revelation of its early story flaws, character underdevelopment, and even a few ignorable songs that seemed to have been miraculously excised or fixed in its celluloid reincarnation.
Luckily, 3D Theatricals' winsome, beautifully-staged revival manages to overcome the presence of these flaws even in its unenviable task of staying faithful to the original stage version's book and narrative flow—albeit with a few tweaks here and there. Buoyed by an invigorating, terrific cast, this smile-inducing, family-friendly show is still quite an entertaining, commendable production that all ages will find utterly beguiling. It's also the company's most charming production since their vigorous re-mounting of HELLO, DOLLY! a couple of seasons ago.
Based on Maria Augusta Trapp's memoirs that recount the true-life stories of the Trapp clan living in pre-WWII Salzburg, Austria, the musical's infamous story of Maria (the perfectly-cast Kim Huber), the ne'er-do-well nun-in-training who is tasked to be the live-in governess for the seven precocious children of the very stern, former Austro-Hungarian Naval Captain Georg Von Trapp (Tom Schmid) has become almost legendary. Feeling that she might be destined for something greater than what the Nonnberg Abbey can provide her, the wise Mother Abbess (the stirring Cynthia Marty) sends her away, to the singing celebration of her fellow nuns, who have found her to be quite a "problem."
As expected in such stories, not only does the spirited Maria bring joy and music back into a once dour, ship-like household (the seven little terrors quickly adore her), she also brings about a personality reversal in the once dour Captain himself—so much so that the two fall madly in love with each. Unfortunately a couple of things stand in their way: the Captain's fiancée Elsa Schräder (Jill Van Velzer) and the oncoming Anschluss, which will officially absorb Austria into the evil empire of Nazi Germany.
Not only is THE SOUND OF MUSIC's famous story drilled gloriously into the global consciousness, its many songs, too, have become just as ubiquitous. Arguably the Rodgers & Hammerstein team's most recognized score (which also marked their final collaboration), the show's songs are well-known standards: from "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" and "My Favorite Things," to "Maria" and, of course, the title song.
Under the direction of 3D Theatricals' own Artistic Director T.J. Dawson, this honorable, full-scale production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC smartly uses the familiarity of its origins within the grand, church-like environment of its venue to elevate the show above from yet another run-of-the-mill production one might catch at the local high school or even a decent-size community theater. Aside from the effectively antiquated sets and the aging but still beautiful background flats that go whizzing up and down the stage throughout the show, the production itself feels lovingly embraced by the Plummer Auditorium's vintage surfaces.
While there are a few laughably awkward moments that can be blamed partially on the original book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse—coupled with a few forced performances from isolated peripheral cast members—this enjoyable stage production is at its utmost best during the well-orchestrated musical numbers, especially the show's signature tunes that feature Maria, the nuns (oh, the magnificent harmonies these ladies produce!), and, of course, the seven adorable children. From its hauntingly stirring opening hymn followed by Huber's tone-perfect delivery of the title song, to the tear-inducing showstopper sung by Marty that closes the first act, the show does a great job of honoring these scenes that have been otherwise branded into our brains for decades.
Many novices to the Broadway original will be surprised by some of the differences that don't quite line-up with the movie version. Some of these instances include the moment featuring "My Favorite Things," which actually started life as a duet between Maria and Mother Abess. Later, "The Lonely Goatherd" is performed as the song Maria and the children sing during a thunderstorm, instead of serving it as a soundtrack to a puppet show.