Up in the Alps

Cottage Theatre closes its current season with an epic production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s classic The Sound of Music

Cottage Theatre is bidding auf Wiedersehen to its home of 20 years with a mountainous send off via The Sound of Music. Once the legendary musical finishes its run on April 28, CT’s building will undergo major renovations and upgrades before once again opening its doors at the same location this fall.

Alles gute, CT crew, now on to the show. 

It’s hard to imagine that anyone living on Julie Andrews’ great green Earth doesn’t know this Rogers and Hammerstein masterpiece, but even such a devotee as myself forgot that there were Nazis on the perimeter. Set during the German annexation of Austria in 1938, and loosely based on the real-life von Trapp family, The Sound of Music blends a timeless love story with the political turmoil of World War II.   

Maria (Sabrina Gross), a free spirited postulant nun who simply can’t resist singing in the abbey, is sent to care for the seven children of Capt. Georg von Trapp (Nathan Blakely) — sounds a little like my biography, actually.  With her wispy hair and gold-metal glasses, Gross is a less-refined, albeit modern and plucky, Maria. Vocally soft and powerful, internally steadfast and doubting, she is a true embodiment of this complex character.    

Despite the minor terror of having to sit still for a nearly three-hour production that includes yodeling, the preludium-a-capella singing sisters are there to let you know that it’s all going to be OK. Hauntingly beautiful with near perfect harmonies, Josie Davis, Susan Goes, Olivia Smith and Jennifer Mandeville-Schulz, all wearing black-and-white habits, gently command your attention and patience.  

CT nails the first act with “Do-Re-Mi,” “My Favorite Things,” “The Lonely Goatherd” (there’s that yodeling) and “Climb Every Mountain.” Tracy Nygard slays as Mother Abbess. Kudos to both Chris King and Mark VanBeever for the their music and vocal direction.   

Director Joel Ibáñez and choreographer Janet Rust make great use of stage space. The Day-Glo colored Alps may be a permanent fixture in the background, but the characters themselves are in perpetual motion: twirling, jumping, pillow fighting — it’s a whirlwind of movement.

The interactions and dance numbers between Gross and the children (William Blakely, Kira Carver, Hanna Foshay, Zoe Goings, Audriahna Jones, Nicole Wilhour and Maia Wilhour) are especially entertaining. These singing, dancing, wise-cracking, lederhosen-wearing kiddos are sure to delight even the most frigid among us.  

The second act is an entirely different beast. Suddenly, Nazi officers stand guard in the aisles. A crackling siren and spotlight search party bring the joyfulness down to creepy nightmares — it’s jarring compared to the previous two hours.

The problem is that the dangers of a looming war never really take shape in light of the more upbeat and memorable moments of Maria’s journey. There’s no real build-up, and by the time Blakely sadly sings “Edleweiss” — which also happens to be the exact moment I remember where the intro to Man in the High Castle comes from — the von Trapps are mostly lost in the shadows.  

A few powerful moments punctuate the drama, most notably in Liesl’s (Foshay) trembling steps between her father and a gun. It is during these moments that we see the soul of The Sound of Music: the running thread of faith and family.

All in all, CT’s production of The Sound of Music is surprisingly good. Big, elaborate musical productions are no small task for community theater, yet Ibáñez and his entire cast and crew bring forth a beautiful example of the art of storytelling. 

The Sound of Music runs through April 28 at Cottage Theatre; $15 and up, tickets at www.cottagetheatre.org.

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