How do you recreate “The Sound of Music” so it feels new again?
That’s the big question facing every company staging the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein classic – not to mention the eternally popular 1965 film with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer as Maria Rainer and Austrian naval Capt. Georg von Trapp.
On Saturday, director Kristin Winchester-White and her creative team at Durango High School answered the question with a clear, beautifully paced and well-conceived production. Very few glitches interfered with an essentially performance-ready work.
In Act I, one actor’s microphone didn’t function, but it was fixed during intermission. The orchestra had a fuzzy, unfocused beginning, but director Katharine Reed pulled the 18-piece ensemble together in short order. Alternating with accompanist Ivy Walker on piano, the musicians supported a superb cast of actor-singers.
The story begins in a convent near Salzburg. Technical director Walker White and his crew have created an elegant, workable set with a simplified backdrop of the Austrian Alps. It serves exterior and interior scenes well by sliding abstract panels into place for a chapel or French doors with Palladian windows for the von Trapp estate. Those odd stage wings at the high school function as the convent office and Maria’s bedroom.
The narrow curtain corridor sustains several scenes during set changes, most notably as a convent passageway or the stage for the Salzburg Folk Festival.
In a daring plan to escape Nazi-occupied Austria, the von Trapp Family Singers perform a complex madrigal, the nostalgic “Edelweiss,” and the famous “So Long, Farewell,” in a scheme devised by the Captain’s friend, the impresario, Max Detweiler (a jaunty Hugh Parsons).
Balancing musical sections with dramatic scenes, the cast creates a natural rhythm throughout. Vocal director Tom Kyser has coached his singers well, with many revealing years of voice training. Suzy DiSanto’s choreography serves the story in a multitude of ways, from the von Trapp children’s antics to a splendid Viennese waltz at the estate.
Dramatic, spoken-word scenes never feel rushed, and the musical numbers are full of vitality. More often than not, they blend into one another.
Nowhere is this combination more effective than in the recognition scene midway through Act II. Maria (the effervescent Emma Buchanan) and Capt. von Trapp (a stalwart and mature Evatt Salinger) have set their differences aside and finally meet in mutual love and understanding.
The scene could easily spill into dreamy, romantic excess as it did in the film version.
But Buchanan and Salinger bring a beautiful stillness to the moment and sing the plaintive ballad, “Something Good,” directly and simply to each other.
The 30-member cast, 18-member orchestra, and the multitudes backstage constitute a major commitment to this project. Everyone deserves credit on, behind, and below stage.
Credit the Winchester-White team for weaving many strands together to weave a fresh and beautiful production into whole cloth.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic.