Riverside Center The Sound of MusicBy Bruce Levy • Nov 10th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Riverside Center, Fredericksburg, VA
Through January 6th
3:00 with one intermission
$55-$60/$50-$55 Seniors/$40 children
Reviewed November 8th, 2012
The Sound of Music is arguably one of America’s most beloved musicals. As a child, my favorite movie was the classic with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. My favorite record album (yes 33 1/3) was the Broadway cast recording with Mary Martin. While some of my friends in the acting community will roll their eyes and claim they’d rather live in a third world nation than appear in The Sound of Music, many have shined in the iconic roles. It was with this mixed bag of expectations I attended the current production at the Riverside Dinner Theater in Fredericksburg.
The plot, which is familiar to most people, centers around postulant Maria Rainier. The Reverend mother does not think she is ready to make the lifelong commitment to become a nun, and sends her to the home of widowed sea Captain Georg Von Trapp, to be the governess for his seven children. Amidst the backdrop of World War II Austria, the Captain and the postulant fall in love.
First, let me get the “dinner” part of the “dinner theater” out of the way; as it is generally just the hors d’oeuvres for the evening, while the show itself is the main course. My co-worker who joined me for the performance had the salmon, which came in a much more generous portion than the chicken I chose. We both felt our meal was well seasoned, but a bit dry — perhaps having sat too long in a hot box waiting to be served. The salad and corn bread were simple and basic, but we differed on our opinions of our desserts — a cheese cake that I enjoyed more than my co-worker. Service was fabulous. For those who haven’t been to dinner theaters, your actors, actresses and tech people are also your serving staff. Kathryn Moncure (lighting technician) and Analisa Wall (spotlight) were personable and fun and made the dinner experience very enjoyable.
Dinner was followed by a rather long and tedious introduction by producer/ director Rollin E. Wehman (it ran almost 20 minutes!) Once the talking was over, the show started with a scene at the Nonnberg Abbey that was second to nun! (I will try to refrain from further puns as I know it’s a bad habit). But seriously, the opening a capella number was melodic and beautiful, although throughout the show they had some problems mic-ing the nuns (the large outfits often muffling or causing static in the headpiece mics). While all the nuns had terrific singing voices that blended nicely; the acting of the 4 “main nuns” had one performance that was too small and reserved, one was too big, and two that were just right. Sister Margaretta (Carol Hagy) was sweet and likeable. Sister Sophia (Teresa Cundiff) was warm and believable. However Sister Berthe (Chris Johns) was a bit too overdrawn and loud and in the pivotal role of the Reverend Mother, Shana Oshiro while dignified, tended to be too reserved and one-dimensional, and a bit too young-looking for the role. Her singing voice, however, was incredible. Her strong, deep, rich, operatic voice carried memorable songs like “Climb Every Mountain” perfectly.
Maija-Lisa Nielsen as Maria, of course, had the biggest shoes to fill, and did an outstanding job of making the iconic role her own. Many actresses try to recreate Andrews characterization, but Nielsen’s Maria was different, yet believable and effective. From her opening number, “The Sound of Music,” Nielsen was youthful, energetic and her voice was fresh and crisp. She created a character with great emotional depth and variety. The only weak spot in her performance came in the song “I Have Confidence.” Strangely, that was the only number where she did not seem confident. Part of the problem could have been a difficult costume change in a side stairwell that was visually blocked from much of the audience. This was followed by an innovative use of her walking and singing through the audience, however the lighting was inconsistent in the house. Nielsen did a great job developing and growing the character to a strong, confident woman in the second act. One of the most memorable moments was the bridal procession, which came down the stairs in the house. In a poignant touch, Nielsen’s real life son (Jacob Nielsen as Kurt) was the one to walk her down the aisle. The true mother and son bond was evident on their faces and left nary a dry eye in the house. Nielsen’s exuberance and professionalism helped carry the show (as could be evidenced by the audience reserving their standing ovation for her curtain call).
Thomas Cleary (the captain) was stern and businesslike, and while not quite as suave yet icy as Christopher Plummer, he was commanding and a man to be feared. He too showed a great depth of emotion in his portrayal, giving many levels to his characters growth throughout the show. His rich operatic voice added great flavor to many musical numbers.
Of course, the true stars of the show, or at least the scene stealers, were the seven children. Riverside alternates two sets of kids; and I saw the “Diamond cast.” Max Nicholson (Friedrich) was bit small for the role of the eldest son, but that little boy packed a big voice, especially on some falsetto notes. Rachel Shrader had great energy and stage presence and shined as the precocious Louisa. Jacob Nielsen had great comedic timing and charm as Kurt and Abigayle Anderson was natural and sweet as Brigitta. Alexa Norbeck (Marta) battled Evelyn Gansler (Gretl) for who could be most adorable and loveable. Both were reminiscent of a young Shirley Temple in their ability to steal any scene and make the audience grin from ear to ear.
Hannah von Oeyen was fabulous as eldest daughter Liesl, showing the development of a bratty 16-year-old who “didn’t need a nanny” to a sweet young girl “going on 17” and learning about love and life. She and Jonathan Litalien (Rolf) held their own somewhere between the adults and the kids, and blended their voices nicely. Two stand outs in supporting role were Alison Stokes as Elsa Schrader the baroness/tigress on the prowl; and Jason J. Michael as Max Detweiler. Michael was surprisingly an understudy, because his performance was first-rate. His Max was a mixture of Shakespeare meets vaudeville, with excellent energy and comedic timing, making him (as the script says) “just too loveable.”
As Director, Wehman overall did a nice job making the classic play interesting and fresh. There were some odd touches though such as Michael R. Colby’s Herr Zeller. While he was the epitome of the angry and frightening Nazi, it seemed odd that he was the only person with a German accent. Likewise, moments when Nazi storm troopers stomped around the stage seemed more comical than dramatic. Also, it was a bit distracting when Wehman chose to conduct some numbers with a light up wand, that looked like something out of Star Wars or Harry Potter. Also, having the family in a football-like huddle at the music festival provoked some giggles.
The sets were a dichotomy as well. Most were elaborate, beautiful, well designed and professional (I’m still amazed how many people could bounce on a bed without it breaking). However, two of the sets were simple backdrops more reminiscent of a High School show than professional theater. The Abbey drop would have worked fine, in the need to save space back stage if it weren’t for some really fake looking pillars. The second drop, the mountain background of course could not be real, but the one used was wrinkled and sagging in spots and look rather tired and worn.
In addition to the microphone problems mentioned earlier, my co-worker also noted that the sound track music seemed a bit “pulled back” and soft. The dialogue and singing, however, generally came across as clear and sharp as did periodic organ accompanyment by Wehman. Gaye Law’s costumes were appropriate and at times lavish and added nicely to the tone of the performance. Sally Roehl’s choreography was simple yet elegant and effective in enhancing the musical numbers.
Overall, “I have Confidence” you will enjoy the Sound of Music at Riverside.
“How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?”
These lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II for The Sound of Music, familiar throughout the world since 1959 to millions of musical theatre patrons, movie-goers, literary scholars, school children, music teachers, piano students, and even non-music lovers aptly express the dilemma facing any director seeking a fresh approach to the “most beloved musical of all time.” How do you achieve spontaneity and capture the expected in an unexpected way without allowing distortion of the simple yet profound beauty of the story line?
The 1965 film version, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, was able to attempt (and, for the most part, achieve) this feat through the magic of instantaneous scene changes, zoom-ins, and sound dubs — showing the audience that the director’s edits chose to show. But such techniques are not the stuff of the live, legitimate stage. Where each member of the audience is privy not only to the whole, but, through the focus of each pair of eyes, to any component segment of the scene.
Perhaps therein lies the solution to the “fresh approach” challenge — allow the presentation — at selected moments — to interact with the audience and better enable a sense of “being there”:
for a morning prayer in Nonnberg Abbey…..
at the Wedding….
in the Salzberg Festival Concert Hall…
during the singing of “Edelweiss”…..
So tonight, the Riverside Center auditorium will ring with a capella chants of the Abbey nuns amidst your tables; later in the show this same auditorium will become the Nonnberg Cathedral for the wedding of Maria and Captain Von Trapp, complete with “live” organ processional, entrance of the bride and bridal party down the aisles beside you, and the marriage ceremony itself.
You will be an integral part of the Saltzberg Concert –as patriotic Austrians joining the von Trapps in the emotional singing of the final chorus of Edelweiss and soon thereafter experiencing the fury of the Nazi Guard reacting to the family’s disappearance with flashlight- blinding interrogations.
When you leave us following the performance, I trust you will have received a semblance of realism and presence throughout a marvelously crafted, inspiring (and essentially true) story of love, faith, and triumph in the face of adversity.
Sometime during the conclusion of rehearsals for a Sound of Music production which I directed twenty-four years ago, our eight-year-old actress playing the role of Marta shyly approached me with a framed needlepoint “present” that she had been working on since she first read the playbook script. That gift, with the marvelous beauty and truth of its lovely musical lyric, has maintained a special place over my bed for all those 24 years. I leave you with its text:
A bell is no bell ‘til you ring it;
A song is no song ‘til you sing it;
And love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay –
Love isn’t love ‘til you give it away.
Thanks for allowing us to be a part of your life this evening.
Rollin E. Wehman
P.S. Don’t forget to sing the Edelweiss refrain at the Concert.
Photos provided by Riverside Center
The Cast (in order of appearance)
- Maria Rainier: Maija-Lisa Nielsen
- Sister Berthe: Chris Johns
- Sister Margaretta: Carol Hagy
- The Mother Abbess: Shana Oshiro
- Sister Sophia: Teresa Cundiff
- Captain Georg von Trapp: Thomas Cleary
- Franz: Wilson Johnson
- Frau Schimdt: Anne Knight Lloyd
- Liesl: Hannah von Oeyen, Caroline Griswold
- Friedrich: Max Nicholson, Nick Kahane
- Louisa: Rachel Shrader, Caroline Mork
- Kurt: Jacob Nielsen, Joshua Otten
- Brigitta: Abigayle Anderson, Annalese Fusaro
- Marta: Alexa Norbeck, Jillian Brence
- Gretl: Evelyn Gansler, Rhianna DeGeorge
- Rolf: Jonathan Litalien, David Flickinger
- Elsa Schraeder: Alison Stokes
- Ursula: Autumn East
- Max Detweiler: Jason J. Michael (understudy reviewed- main cast Robert L. Nelson)
- Herr Zeller: Michael R. Colby
- Baron Elberfeld: Jeffrey Kyer
- Admiral von Schreiber: Dale Shrader
- Nazi Soldiers: Jeffrey Kyer, Kendric Walpole
- Nuns, novices, postulants, contestants in the festival concert and neighbors: Mandy J. Carr, Keri Durrett, Autumn East, Amber French, Michelle Gansler, Rebecca Law, Kimberly McDowell, Kendric Walpole, Jessica Warren
- Producer/ Director: Rollin E. Wehman
- Associate Artistic Director: Patrick A’hearn
- Technical Director” Phil Carlucci
- Stage Manager: Ben Feindt
- Assistant Stage Manager: Ashton Banks
- Choreographer: Sally A. Roehl
- Production Manager: Carole Shrader
- Senior Stage Technicians: Paul Johannes, Steve Thompson
- Stage Technicians: Taylor Boyle, Kevin Cleary, Geoff McPherson, Kendric Walpole, Jessie Croke
- Scenic Design: David E. Hunt
- Scenic Artist: Matthew P. Westcott
- Lighting Design: Rebecca “Nicky” Mahon
- Lighting Technician: Kathryn Moncure
- Costume Design: Gaye Law
- Senior Wardrobe Assistant: Teresa Cundiff
- Costume Master/ Wig Stylist: Christopher Hlusko
- Costume Mistress: Sally Roehl
- Senior Audio Technician: Joshua Watson
- Props Coordinator: Kylie Clark
- Set Dressing: Stefannie Smith
- Master Set Carpenter: Curtis Craddock
- Scenic Painter/ Set Carpenter: Maria Duke
Disclaimer: Riverside Center provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8833.
Bruce Levy is by day a Special Education teacher, teaching History, Science and drama to Middle and High School students in a private Day School in Stafford. He has degrees in Educational Media and Special Education. He is also a part time Radio News Anchor and occasional actor in the Richmond area. Bruce is a native of New Jersey and spent most of his "adult" life in Upstate New York, where he started and ran a national award winning youth theater and cable television program for over 10 years. He has lived in Virginia since 2002, and in Caroline County since 2005, where he is active in many community groups; including serving on the Board of Caroline's Promise.