By Morgan Politzer
When I was little, I used to run downstairs every weekend before my parents woke up to watch The Sound of Music. There have been so many versions since the original show, written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, opened on Broadway in 1959. I had high expectations for The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ production. As soon as the curtain raised, I knew I would not be disappointed.
The first thing I saw was the large, stained glass window of Nonnberg Abbey, followed by the sound of nuns singing in prayer. The abbey was gorgeous, with tall arches and intricate designed on the walls and ceiling. As the characters moved around the stage trying to “Solve a Problem like Maria,” the set moved with them. I have never seen a set move on stage during a scene as the actors walked through “rooms,” but it was elegant and graceful.
In contrast, the scene then shifted to the large purple mountains and green hills that were alive with the sound of Charlotte Maltby’s (Maria Rainer) impressive voice. From the moment she opened her mouth, it was obvious Maltby is a talented singer. But I expected that. What impressed me was her ability to balance her powerful voice with the almost childlike essence of the lovable, awkward Maltby.
As she skipped and stumbled across a bridge like a “brook when it trips and falls over stones on its way,” everything from her guitar to her signature blonde hair cut was able to bring dimension to the character and captured Maria’s internal struggle between herself and behaving like a perfect nun.
When Maria arrived at the von Trapp house, the audience shared in her amazement. Tall pillars, spiral staircases and doors that opened to mountains filled the stage. As the seven von Trapp children marched down the stairs to meet her, they were every bit as lovable as the movie cast I grew up with.
Anika Lore Hatch (Gretl von Trapp) immediately stole my heart as she proudly declared “When you read you begin with A-B- C!” leading into possibly the most famous song in the show. As Maria taught the children to sing during “Do Re Mi,” everyone around me began mouthing the words along with the cast and were quietly dancing in their seats.
The music is — obviously — one of the most important parts of this iconic musical. But as many times as I watched the movie growing up, I never fully understood the underlying plot of the Nazi takeover of Austria. It wasn’t until Nicholas Rodriguez (Captain von Trapp) and Merwin Foard (Max Detweiler) began arguing over Nazi policy and what would happen when the Nazis took over that I realized just how much of the story I missed as a child.
I not only understand the historical better, but the plot became much more emotional as I watched the story for the first time in years.
When the von Trapp Family Singers entered the festival, the Nazis were supposed to have just taken control of Austria. Thus, large, red Nazi banners covered the entire stage as Rodriguez sang “Edelweiss.” His emotion was real as he choked up, looking back at the Nazi banners. “Bless my homeland forever” had the room in tears as he told the story of his pain and love for his country one last time before disappearing into the mountains.
The most impressive part of the show was the final scene in which the von Trapps escape into the mountains. Midnight blue lighting covered the swirled iron gates of the abbey. Behind the gates, the village was nestled into a valley.
Rather than just looking like a fabric backdrop, the lights appeared to twinkle in the glowing windows. Hidden by the gates was a staircase. One by one, the children, the Captain and Maltby slowly climbed the stairs toward the mountains, making the audience believe they were leaving us behind.
By the end of the show, I was in tears. One of my Favorite Things as a child came to life in a completely new and emotional way. The sets were some of the best I’ve seen, and every cast member brought something new to the stage. As life gets crazier and scarier, the von Trapps remind us to take a minute to think of a few of our favorite things, and then we won’t feel so bad.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jeremy Daniel.
Morgan Politzer is a freshman journalism major and can be reached a firstname.lastname@example.org.