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Theater review: Strong vocal performances, cute kids carry ‘The Sound of Music’

Jill-Christine Wiley stars as Maria Rainer in the national touring production of “The Sound of Music” at the INB Performing Arts Center this weekend. (Matthew Murphy)
Jill-Christine Wiley stars as Maria Rainer in the national touring production of “The Sound of Music” at the INB Performing Arts Center this weekend. (Matthew Murphy)

Just hearing Lauren Kidwell sing “Climb E’vry Mountain” is almost worth the price of admission.

Watching adorable Sophia Massa sing and run around the stage as the youngest of the von Trapp children seals the deal.

All told, the national touring production of the venerable “The Sound of Music” that opened Thursday at the INB Performing Arts Center is a testament to the strengths of a classic show: great songs, performed well by characters we come to care about.

For fans whose only exposure to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s musical is from the beloved 1965 film starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, the basic plot points are the same. In 1930s Austria, a young postulate, Maria, who is ill-suited for convent life, is sent to the home of naval hero Georg von Trapp to be governess to his seven children. Von Trapp, grieving the death of his wife, runs his home like a military unit, and has forbidden music. When Maria arrives with her guitar in hand and a song in her heart, she wins over the children first, then their father, and finds happiness.

But first there’s a wealthy and beautiful rival, Elsa Schraeder, to dispatch with, political struggles as Austria is swallowed up by the Third Reich, and a desperate flight out of the country as the Nazis close in.

Maria is one of the most iconic roles in American musical theater. Originated by Mary Martin on Broadway and forever associated with Andrews for her Oscar-nominated film performance, Maria requires an actress with not only a lovely voice, but an easy rapport with children and an ability to bring Maria’s naivete into balance with the world around her. Jill-Christine Wiley makes a great impression with Maria’s first solo, “The Sound of Music.” A short while later, she and Kidwell, as the Mother Abbess, are marvelous together singing “My Favorite Things.”

But it’s with “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” which closes Act I, that Kidwell really lets her talent shine. Her soprano voice soars off the stage, leaving the audience cheering when she hits the seemingly impossible high note at the end. It sounded beautiful.

Actually, for a non-equity show, the vocal talent in “The Sound of Music” is quite good. As Georg, Mike McLean cuts a strong figure, and gives lovely voice to the beloved “Edelweiss” and “Something Good,” in duet with Wiley. Jake Mills adds a touch to deft comedy to his performance of Georg’s friend Max Detweiler, who maneuvers the children into a singing career. As Elsa Schraeder, who vies with Maria for Georg’s affection, Melissa McKamie is cool and confident, and her performance with McLean and Mills in “No Way to Stop It” is entertaining.

The children’s ensemble – Keslie Ward (Liesl), Paul Schoeller, Sienna Laura Ann Berkseth, Matthew Law, Valerie Wick, Amaryllis C. Miller and Massa – is strong across the board. Ward brings a lovely flair and vocal skill to Liesl; her duet with Rolf (Chad P. Campbell), “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” is a joy to watch. I also really enjoyed Wick as Brigitta, who is portrayed as the observant kid who figures out things long before the adults around her.

But Massa, as Gretl, steals nearly every scene she’s in. Everytime the tiny actor walked on stage, she was greeted with a loud “awww” from the audience. She was fun to watch.

And really, “The Sound of Music” as a whole was fun to watch. It’s a brisk production – we were out by 10:20 on Thursday night, making the stage version about 30 minutes shorter than the film – with simple, effective sets and good sound. The hills – and the INB – are alive with “The Sound of Music.” Take a listen while you have the chance.


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