Deciding to do a classic piece of theatre, especially musical theatre, brings a lot of decisions both to the director and to the production company. Milburn Stone Theatre in Maryland took on these challenges with their recent production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC.
Walking into the theater — as is usual for MST productions – the stage setting immediately brought the audience into the action as nuns were visible on stage at the Nonnburg Abbey. The birds singing and the nuns speaking in whispers and doing daily chores brought a sense of familiarity with convent life. With one large fixed spiral staircase on stage left and one revolving set piece on stage right, the set was simple and very utilitarian especially when special areas were lit separately, i.e., Maria’s bedroom and the Concert Hall Stage. Kudos to David Allen for the effective lighting design. For this reviewer, it was the first time the orchestra was set in the pit. The sound was well controlled and mixed by Marshall Garrett and Shane Springer as both individual and choral singing were supportive of the action on stage. The costumes were specific and charming as provided by Gail Bareham.
It is common practice with this particular theater piece, especially when done in a community setting, to cast two sets of Von Trapp children to share the theatre experience. The children’s cast seen had some very nice bits of action and reaction. The very large audience was receptive to them and the response to the children was palpable and appreciative.
While these are some of the things to appreciate about this production, there were aspects that didn’t live up to usual MST standards. The music under the direction of Michael Bareham seemed to come at a single pace which became familiar and then repetitive as the production continued. The energy and enthusiasm of the cast in both singing and performance are keynotes of a successful production. It seemed lacking here. The general pace of the actors was also sluggish. S. Lee Lewis’ blocking tried to use the entire stage area causing unmotivated movements and unbelievable conversations. Most notable to this reviewer was the decision to have the Mother Superior and Maria sit on opposite sides of the trellis as Mother Superior tells Maria she needs to leave the abbey. That placement did not ring true. Perhaps a small area of specialty lighting could have provided this pivotal moment the privacy it required.
As actors to be spotlighted in this production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, both Marji Eldreth (Mother Superior) and Ted Creggar (Max Detweiler) were stand outs. Their pacing was a breath of fresh air each time they appeared on-stage and their work with the other actors did not seem stilted. The age difference between Maria and Captain Von Trapp was jarring BUT this can be caused by those who actually audition as opposed to those whom the director might wish to attend an audition. Both Jillian Victoria (Maria) and Joseph Mannherz (Captain Von Trapp) sang beautifully, but there was little chemistry between them to take the audience to the wedding scene in Act II.
THE SOUND OF MUSIC was done with respect and attention to detail. It was, however, the choices made around some of those details which brought an overall lethargic feeling to this Milburn Stone production that seemed very much at odds when compared to other productions which have appeared there.
THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Book by Howard Lindsey and Russel Crouse
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed by S. Lee Lewis
August 13-28, 2011
Milburn Stone Theatre
One Seahawk Drive
North East, MD 21921