by Terrance V. Mc Arthur
Information on a special ticket discount for KRL readers at the end of this review!
You remember how it begins, that opening panorama swirling down onto Julie Andrews singing her heart out on top of a mountain, and you know it’s The Sound of Music……..but that’s the movie. The real musical is onstage at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, directed by the Good Company Players’ managing director, Dan Pessano.
The show has been mocked and derided for its sentiment since it opened on Broadway in 1959 (The Sound of Muzak, The Sound of Mucus), but there has to be a reason that it’s been produced over and over, and that audiences still flock to it. There are plenty of reasons. The music is memorable (During the intermission, audience members were whistling “Do-Re-Mi” and the title tune in the bathrooms, which have great acoustics), the story has all the hallmarks of a Rodgers & Hammerstein show (collision of worlds, crisis of conscience, and an ending that lifts the soul with its rightness), and it’s based on the story of the Von Trapp Family Singers and their escape from the Third Reich when it took over Austria (somehow, they manage to never mention the name of a certain man with floppy hair and a little moustache).
The cast is great, and (one of the biggest reasons for this version’s success) Dan Pessano is the director. I have seen Dan’s shows, been directed by him, and acted with him. The man understands theatre, and, beyond any messages and morals, he knows that it’s about entertainment. In my childhood, my mother taught me the one rule of the theatre: “If it works, use it.” What Dan Pessano uses, works.
Hanna Nielsen plays Maria, a problem in the convent but a godsend as the governess to the seven von Trapp children. Nielsen is petite, perky, and in fine voice on “Do-Re-Mi,” “My Favorite Things,” and “The Lonely Goatherd.” Eric Estep starts out as a cold, military-minded widower, but his interpretation of Captain von Trapp softens and warms as he accepts Maria’s love. Gordon Moore is the Valley’s answer to Rowan (Mr. Bean) Atkinson, rubber-faced and deadpan at the same time. His delivery as Max, the impresario who puts the bottom line above politics and sees financial opportunity in the talents of a singing family, brightens every moment he prowls the stage.
The young people playing the von Trapp children are double-cast, with one group acting on Thursdays and Saturdays, while the Friday and Sunday shows see performances by the other set of players. In the Thursday/Saturday team, Kara Linkowsky is a luminous sixteen-going-on-seventeen Liesl, portraying all the joys and sorrows of young love. Chelsea Newton as Brigitta gets the good lines, and Avery Addington as little Gretl is wide-eyed and precocious. Cynthia Rhodus handled the duties of the Mother Superior the first weekend, and will turn over the responsibilities for the character to Sara Price for the rest of the run. Rhodus’ voice floated like a shining mantle over the words of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” “My Favorite Things,” and “Maria.”
The most thankless part to play in The Sound of Music is Baroness Elsa Schrader, the other woman vying for the affections of Captain von Trapp. Heather Price charges into the role with shining cynicism and polished confidence. You never want her to win his heart, but you’re sorry that she loses.
The theater’s vest-pocket stage has always been a challenge to use, but the cast of more than twenty-five fill it, yet are never crowded; David Pierce’s sets coax every square centimeter out of the space in inventive ways. Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed’s costumes bring the pre-WWII era to life, and curtains never looked this good since Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh or Carol Burnett, take your pick).
See this show. You’ll feel good. You’ll have a great time, and—for dessert—I recommend the Layered Red Velvet Cheese Cake.
The Sound of Music runs through July 15 in Fresno at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, 1226 N. Wishon, at Olive and Wishon in The Tower District. More information can be found on Roger Rocka’s KRL theatre event page.
Special Offer for KRL readers: Mention Kings River Life Magazine at the time of reservation and see Good Company Players’ The Sound of Music at the discounted group rate. Savings of up to $5 per Dinner & Show reservation. Offer valid any Sunday evening performance through July 1. Box Office: (559) 266-9494.