LEXINGTON PARK, Md. – The journey that a stage musical embarks upon in order to be transferred over to film is one of the most fascinating endeavors to behold. Sometimes, the film version actually trumps the stage version (think Chicago or Tick, Tick, Boom!), but oftentimes, the reverse is painfully true (see Mamma Mia!, Rent, Dear Evan Hansen, and far too many others to count). The Newtowne Players’ (NTP) current production of the beloved The Sound of Music presents this dilemma front and center and it is in this reviewer’s opinion that the stage version is far superior to the 1965 film of the same name.
Originally produced on Broadway in 1959, The Sound of Music marked the final collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II before the unfortunate passing of Hammerstein nine months after the show premiered on Broadway. Somewhat loosely based on Maria von Trapp’s 1949 memoir entitled The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, the musical tells the story of a youthful Maria who is training to be a nun. However, she isn’t particularly the best fit, so she is sent away to be the governess of the von Trapp family instead. Along the way she learns about the lengths that we will go to in order to protect the ones that we love. The musical is filled with an ever-abundant amount of familiar musical numbers and reminds us of the humanity that lies within us all, even in the midst of adversity.
Direction by Steve Pugh brings a sense of relevancy and authenticity to this production. Maria is reimagined as the OG cool surrogate stepmom to the von Trapp children through his clever direction. The captain emanates a constant sense of depth throughout the entirety of the show, not just after the pivotal moment in Act I. Pugh finds an emotional depth in the source material that typically is completely glossed over by other directors. This depth can further be seen in his varied blocking choices that really allows the story to find new life on the stage.
Pateley Bongiorni’s musical direction paired with Rachael and Steve Howell’s choreography is absolutely stunning in this show. The instrumentals are absurdly flawless and most of the numbers sound as if they were plucked directly from a Broadway soundtrack. Her work with all of the actors (but particularly the children) results in a full-bodied sound that thrusts Rodger and Hammerstein’s iconic score into the 21st Century with its transcendent clarity. The Howells’ inventive choreography beautifully compliments Bongiorni’s musical direction with its intentional and fluid movements.
Every member of the company of this production brings their most earnest A game for the entire duration of the show. In particular, each of the children in the cast prove that age is only a number with their energetic performances. Two adult actors that I found to be of utmost note were Sarah Gravelle as Maria Rainer and David W. Cook as Captain von Trapp.
Gravelle brings a heartfelt honesty to Maria that transforms the character into a truly three-dimensional human being. She feels like both the amazing big sister you never had and the stepmom whose catchphrase is “I’m not like a regular stepmom, I’m a cool stepmom.” The character that she has created feels intensely personal to the audience and practically leaps off of the stage with her all-consuming warmth. Cook imbues the captain with an emotional intensity that shocks the audience to their core from the moment he graces the stage. The cadence of his speaking voice and the richness of his singing voice filled the theater with a welcomed gravity and grandeur each time he spoke or sang. Anytime that the two interact on stage, the result is pure, charged electric energy between them. Their intense chemistry can be felt even in the very last row of the theater.
Although I have never found myself to be a fan of the famous film of the same name, the same cannot be said for the stage production of The Sound of Music. The musical and narrative structuring is undeniably engaging the entire time (which can be rare in Golden Age theatre) and results in a show that is appealing to all generations. NTP’s current production of the show further enhances this element with their expert staging of the timeless story. If you’re looking for a nice, family-friendly night (or afternoon) out that doesn’t feel sanitized, then this is the show for you. Authenticity reigns supreme in this production to excellent results.
The approximate run time is 3 hours with one fifteen-minute intermission.
While family-friendly, this show does contain intermittent depictions of Nazis in their historical context and an intense sequence.
The Sound of Music will be playing at 21744 South Coral Drive Lexington Park, MD 20653 through March 5th, 2023. For more information and the purchase tickets, please visit their website here.