Welcome to the mountains of Austria in New Bedford Theater Festival's 25 Anniversary production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The Sound of Music". When a postulant proves too high spirited for religious life, she is dispatched to serve as governess for the seven children of a widowed naval Captain. Her growing rapport with the youngsters, coupled with her generosity of spirit, gradually captures the heart of the stern Captain and they marry. Upon returning home from their honeymoon they discover Austria has been invaded by the Nazis, who demand the Captain's immediate service in their navy. The family's narrow escape over the mountains to Switzerland on the eve of World War II provides one of the most inspirational finales around. Michael Susko directs this 25th Anniversary season musical with a topnotch cast and orchestra. This true story based on Maria Von Trapp's autobiography "The Story of the Trapp Family Singers" is still as poignant now as it was back when it was first performed on Broadway in 1959, garnering a standing ovation for this multitalented cast.
Michael's blocking of this huge show is terrific especially the nun's, children and the concert scenes. The most emotionally draining scenes are the emotional good bye with the Mother Abess at the end of Act 1 and the final escape of the Von Trapp family at the end of the show. These scenes leave you with a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye. Music director Juan Rodriguez obtains a glorious harmonic balance from the cast and especially the nun's in their four part harmony in Latin as well as the children's numbers. He conducts a thirteen piece orchestra. Michael's choreography includes the Rolf and Liesl dance, "Do Re Mi", "The Lonely Goatherd", the Party dance and "So Long Farewell". The gorgeous multitude of costumes is by Aaron Gendreau-Visco and the fantastic two story set is by Christopher McCollum.
Leading this huge cast is gorgeous brunette Melissa McKamie as Maria. Melissa displays great depth in this role, being spunky and charming. She captures the hearts of one and all with her warmth and caring for the children. Melissa's marvelous soprano voice soars from her opening "Sound of Music" to "My Favorite Things" with Mother Abbess, to "I Have Confidence", to "Do Re Mi" where she teaches the children how to sing and "The Lonely Goatherd" where she comforts them during a thunderstorm. Her two duets with the captain are "The Sound of Music" and "Something Good". The latter is tenderly rendered as Maria and the Captain fall in love with each other. Melissa breathes new life in this well known role making it her own.
Tall, dark and handsome Bobby Sylvia shines as the debonair Captain with his strong acting ability and marvelous singing voice. He appears as a strict martinet, running his household like his battleship by whistling for everyone. His demeanor changes when he realizes that Maria has brought joy back into his and his children's lives. Bobby handles the comic moments with the various whistling sounds but he also displays his tender side during the love song with Maria. Bobby brings tears to your eyes when the captain sings "The Sound of Music" with his children and especially tugs at your heartstrings during "Edelweiss" at the concert. "Edelweiss" becomes even more poignant when you realize the was the last song Oscar Hammerstein wrote before his death in 1960. Melissa and Bobby have excellent chemistry together.
The Mother Abbess is excellently played by Patrice Tiedemann. She has a fabulous soprano voice which soars off the charts in the emotionally draining "Climb Every Mountain" at the end of both acts. Patrice also leads the nuns chorus in "Dixit Dominus", "Rex Admirabilis", "Gaudeamus" and "Confitemini Domino" and does a joyful "My Favorite Things" with Melissa. She commands the stage as this kindly older nun showing Maria how to pick her true path of life. The removal of Maria's veil at the end of Act 1 symbolizes her leaving her old life behind her. Another emotion packed scene is when the Abbess says goodbye to Maria and her family at the end of the show. One of the funniest characters is John Costa as Max Detweiller. He has many funny one liners and makes them all hit pay dirt with his topnotch delivery and comic timing. His counterpart in this show, Elsa who is engaged to the Captain, is excellently played by Erin Rubico. She brings this sophisticated woman to life as Elsa. Erin has a strong soprano voice which she displays with Bobby and John in my two favorite songs in the show, "How Can Love Survive?" and "No Way to Stop It". The first is about rich people's love surviving all obstacles in their way and the second about how to deal with the incoming Germans.
Another highlight of this musical is the seven talented performers who play the children. From the exuberance of "Do Re Mi" to the fright of "The Lonely Goatherd" to the excitement of "So Long Farewell" to the harmonic poignant "Sound of Music" and the frightened rendition of the concert numbers, these children not only sing well but run the gamut of emotions all night long with strong line deliveries and facial expressions. These talented children are Emily Ashton Meredith as Liesl, Philip Byrnes as Friedrich, has great facial expressions and reactions, Avery Schaub as the mischievous Louisa, Eddie Gonet as Kurt, who hits a high G in his strong boy soprano in "So Long Farewell", Emilie Kelly as Brigitta, who has many lines as the truth teller and delivers them like an old pro and she sings the solo section of "Sound of Music", Ayla Rae Guillotte as Marta, who is seven years old and Kendall Bonfanti as Gretl, who is cute as a button. Emily also sings "Sixteen Going on Seventeen", does a marvelous dance with Matt Magrath as Rolf and the reprise with Melissa who as Maria explains "Love isn't love till you give it away". Matt has a terrific voice and handles the transition from naive boy to hated Nazi wonderfully.Later on the character redeems himself by letting the family escape from Herr Zeller and the Nazis. Richard Brejcha yells at them as Herr Zeller. The three comic singing nuns who do "Maria" with Patrice are Heather Bodnar, Marianna Wood and Martha Gannon. The butler and the maid are well played by Crosby Goshgarian and Staci Morin. So for a fantastic rendition of this classic musical, be sure to catch "The Sound of Music" by The New Bedford Theater Festival. Kudos to one and all for bringing this classic musical to life. I have many fond memories of this show having worked on it three separate times, playing Herr Zeller in 1980, Max in 1986 and directing it in 1994.