Encore Michigan

Marine City is alive with ‘The Sound of Music’

Review November 21, 2022 Paula Bradley

MARINE CITY, MI–The stage was alive with the familiar sounds of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music at The Riverbank Theatre in Marine City.

Aaron Dennis Smith directs this popular, family-friendly classic, which features dual cast members in many of the major roles; this review will pertain to the cast that performed on Friday, November 18, 2022.

For those few who have never seen the musical (or the subsequent film), the story is based on the real von Trapp family, who escaped Austria in 1938 as the Nazi regime was taking hold there.  Georg von Trapp, a former naval officer and a widower with seven children, hires a temporary governess from the local abbey, a young woman named Maria who is studying to become a nun.  Maria doesn’t quite fit in at the abbey–her carefree spirit and nearly constant singing conflict with the strict constraints of life as a nun.

When Maria meets Captain von Trapp and the children, she is dismayed by the Captain’s military-like expectations of them, and she is determined not only to let them experience the joys of childhood, but also the joys of music.  Meanwhile, the family learns that Captain von Trapp intends to take a new wife, a wealthy widow, Baroness Elsa Schraeder.

When the Captain learns of Maria’s methods–playing and singing–he is angry at first, but softens when he hears the children singing beautifully together. A mutual attraction develops between the Captain and Maria, which becomes awkwardly apparent to Baroness Schraeder, and becomes very uncomfortable to Maria herself. She decides to sneak away and return to the abbey to become a nun.

A heart to heart conversation with the Mother Abbess convinces Maria to follow her heart, and she returns to the family, where she discovers that the Captain has broken his engagement to the Baroness. He admits his love for Maria and they marry. Soon after, the Captain is served orders to return to military service and he also must make a decision to follow his heart, so the family devises a plan to escape the country.

The fun and familiar music is one of the biggest factors in this show’s perpetual popularity.  The audience will hardly be able to resist the urge to hum–or sing–along with favorites such as “Do-Re-Mi,” “My Favorite Things,” “The Lonely Goatherd,” and “So Long, Farewell.”

Maria (Courtney Johnson) is energetic, youthful and naive, yet wise, and her energy translates well to her vocal performance in songs like “I Have Confidence.”  The youth cast (Gracelynne Barrett, Gabriel Stephens, Paige Voss, Jonah Martin, Reilly Wright, Madelynn Giles and Hannah Hrisoulis) are quite the matched set, yet with distinct personalities.  Giles as Marta von Trapp was exuberant.  As a reviewer I occasionally find myself with lower vocal expectations from youth in a cast, even when their acting skills are sharp.  But the ensemble numbers performed by the youth cast here are quite well done, and “The Lonely Goatherd” was especially fun. The nuns’ ensemble numbers are beautifully performed as well.

Two definite standouts, both in their acting and spirited vocal performance, are Nelson Gregory as Max Detweiler and Anna Marck as Baroness Elsa Schraeder. Their command of the stage and their polished vocals make their two featured musical numbers (“How Can Love Survive” and “No Way to Stop It”) intensely gratifying.

Another vocal highlight, perhaps the most stunning performance of the show, is “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” performed by Katherine Guc as Mother Abbess. Guc has a velvety voice and a large vocal range; she hits the top notes with smooth precision, but in my opinion the lower end of her range is where the magic really happens. 

A moving moment to remember occurs near the end of the show when the Captain (Aaron Dennis Smith) gives a farewell performance which moves him to tears, completing his transformation from the military drill master he is at the start of the show. 

Some minor areas for improvement are vocal projection from some of the cast during musical numbers, especially in the lower range for some females.  However, even a couple of random mishaps with set pieces and props did not stop the momentum of the performance. 

Overall, this production of The Sound of Music is a wonderful way to spend some pre-holiday time with family or friends, even for children as young as six or seven. Viewers will have the opportunity to see it through December 22, 2022.

Week of 6/5/2023

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