Newtown Arts Company’s SOUND OF MUSIC: Family Entertainment for the Holidays

by Paul Trimbur

Heidi Morgan as the Mother Abbess and Amanda Cutalo as Maria Rainer in Newtown Arts Company's THE SOUND OF MUSIC running in Newtown PA through December 11.

Opening night for THE SOUND OF MUSIC in Newtown, PA at the Newtown Theatre on State Street (historic district) for some reason reminded me of A WONDERFUL LIFE. Even before the show started it seemed like everyone in the audience knew everyone else and you could already feel their support for the cast. The story of THE SOUND OF MUSIC is not the same as A WONDERFUL LIFE but it also ends with that warm family feeling.

THE SOUND OF MUSIC was Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s last Broadway musical (1959) and starred Mary Martin. It is based on the memoir of Maria von Trapp. Maria begins the show as a novice nun who is a handful for the other nuns who run the abbey. She is then sent to be a temporary governess for seven children of Captain von Trapp. She uses music to bring joy back to that household and to make the children and ultimately, the Captain, fall in love with her. This would be a boring simple story except for the fact that it takes place in 1938 Austria; I won’t give you a history lesson here but I will say that “political upheaval” is an understatement with the Nazi Party not only becoming visual but vocal at that time and place.

The nuns begin the show with their angelic singing minus Maria who is daydreaming up in the hills. Amanda Cutalo who plays Maria has just the right feel for the character. She is not too sweet and is a little rough around the edges but grabs your heart and makes you fall in love with her as does the entire von Trapp family; she portrays Maria’s joy through her singing. We have all heard the songs that Maria sings “The Sound of Music”, “My Favorite Things”, “Do-Re-Mi” and “The Lonely Goatherd” many times but Cutalo makes them feel fresh, new and very character driven.

Let me add a disclaimer here that all of the von Trapp children and Rolf are double cast so I only saw the opening night cast. This set of von Trapp children were a delight to see on stage! The director, Mary Liz Ivins, either did a great job of casting or directing them (or both) because she let the children (and Rolf) shine through their roles. I am not going to name each of the actors playing the children but each seemed a natural and had their own individual qualities. Their chemistry together; with their father the Captain and later, Maria certainly delivered the old time family feeling needed to make the heart of the show a success.

The male lead role of Captain Georg von Trapp portrayed by Bill Sismour on sight does remind you of Christopher Plummer who played the role in the famous THE SOUND OF MUSIC film.  Sismour doesn’t copy Christopher Plummer’s ice hearted version of the character at the start; his is more of a lost soul, who, along with his seven children, needs someone to bring love and music back into their home (absent since his wife/their mother died years ago). One could feel the angst in the Captain in Act II when he saw his beloved Austria being enveloped by the Nazis. Sismour has a pleasant light singing voice but could have used a little more vocal projection to the back row since I was only in the fifth row and had trouble hearing him at times.

I don’t think that anyone had trouble hearing Heidi Morgan singing “Climb Every Mountain” as The Mother Abbess. As a youngish actress for this role; it seemed strange for Morgan to focus on the “mother” portion of this character but it worked and you got the feeling that The Mother Abbess was probably just like Maria when she was her age.

Emily Gibson who played Elsa Schraeder had the most trained singing voice and it suited her character very well; supporting the fact that she was a powerful woman of the world and business. Timothy Costello was trying to channel John Candy in his Max Detweller; good choice, but some of the attempts at humor seemed to fall flat.

The remainder of the actors not mentioned by name did a good job on the whole but could have picked up their lines and the pacing. But after all it was opening night so I believe that the tempo of the whole show and the set changes will be quicker in the future. I must say it was refreshing to hear an unmiked show; for this show in this theatre the naturalness of the sound was perfect.

If you are looking for some comfort food without any calories then go see the Newtown Arts Company current show THE SOUND OF MUSIC which runs thru December 11th. It is like a warm piece of apple strudel with a side of ice cream and your favorite hot beverage; I guarantee you that despite the cold December weather, your heart will be warm as you leave the Newtown Theatre.

Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed by Mary Liz Ivins
December 1-11, 2011
Newton Theatre
120 North State Street
Newtown, PA 18940

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