The Sound of Music is arguably one of the most beloved movie musicals of all time. As if the music of Rodgers & Hammerstein alone isn’t enough to cement its place in the canon, the story pretty much defines American values and its love of the underdog.
Now, more than 70 years after the historic events of the von Trapps’ fleeing the Nazis, coming to America, and finding fame as the Trapp Family Singers, the story continues to feel fresh, the story of escaping persecution and war still timely.
All of those reasons are part of why the University of Saint Francis is staging The Sound of Music for their fall production at the USF Performing Arts Center. But as it turns out there’s one more pretty compelling inspiration.
One of My favorite things
“I’ve always liked the show,” said Brad Beauchamp, director of the production. “But it also turns out to be one of Sister Elise’s favorite shows. And since she’s retiring [as President of Saint Francis] next year, it works out for everybody.”
While many who attend the show will undoubtedly compare it to the iconic film starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, both of whom are still going strong, it was in fact a stage show years before it hit movie screens in 1965.
But what ultimately makes it unique is that it’s a story grounded in fact, rather than fantasy like other musicals of the era. Or even of this era.
“I think the biggest challenge is just getting it real,” Beauchamp said. “It’s based on a real story. So unlike last year’s Seussical, where we get to create our own world or at least the world as Dr. Seuss imagines, the von Trapp family were real, their story was real, and it’s a matter of bringing that to life.”
Climb Ev’ry mountain
Bringing it to life is another challenge given what the movie promises in the way of sweeping vistas and grassy hills that come alive in front of magnificent mountains.
“It’s the kind of set that could require a lot of blackouts for huge scene changes,” Beauchamp said. “But it’s my challenge as a director to find ways around those blackouts and huge scene changes so the story moves fluidly like it does on film. The trick is in making that happen.”
Finding the right cast was also important. As a university production, there is typically a combination of student and community actors involved, and Beauchamp said that his cast of 35 is roughly half of each.
“There’s some great talent in this cast,” he said. “Maria is being played by Kennedy Lomont who is doing a lovely job, and she’s generally a comedic actress. She played Mayzie in Seussical, but generally comedic actors are stronger actors and have great timing. Quentin C. Jenkins is a Saint Francis alum and is playing Captain Von Trapp. He was the Mayor of Whoville in Seussical.
“The children range in age from 5-16 and are generally played by actors those same ages. The toughest thing in the world is casting those kids. There are six different ways I could have cast it, but I was really looking for those perfect stair-step heights, that perfect Partridge Family look when the kids are all lined up. It’s just a perfect look, and now I just have to hope no one has a growing spurt between now and then.”
Beauchamp said the real payoff to directing this particular musical is the memories it stirs for him.
“I remember as a kid going to the Clyde Theatre to see the film when it was running for its 25th anniversary,” he said. “It’s been fun to rediscover the musical and the story because it’s a beautiful love story with a wonderful message.”
What resonates for Beauchamp — and often does for generations of audiences — is the story and humanity of Captain Von Trapp. Early in the story, it is Maria who exudes warmth and humanity and is sent from the convent to help the Captain raise his large brood of children.
Her ability to cut through their very regimented lives and bring music and laughter to their world is a revelation, for the children and the audience — and even for Captain Von Trapp, ultimately.
It seems on the surface that Maria has somewhat transformed the Captain as well, but as Beauchamp pointed out, the real moral fortitude of the story comes from him.
“He’s been commissioned to captain this ship, but he wants nothing to do with the Nazi regime,” Beauchamp said. “You see it in Max, the willingness to play along, to play the game, because eventually it’ll blow over.
“But the Captain says, ‘I can’t do that.’ It’s not in his moral fiber to go along with it, and he realizes he has to leave his homeland because of it. Of course the von Trapps don’t actually depart Austria and climb the Alps on foot. They actually take a train and eventually end up coming to the United States. Still we know that was amazingly good timing. And I think what makes it a good story and what makes it a great musical is the moral fiber and courage we see in it.”
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