In a way, director Matt Lenz’s path to working on the national tour of “The Sound of Music” mirrored the journey the musical’s protagonist Maria Rainer takes from postulant to member of the von Trapp family.
Lenz studied acting in college and worked as an actor for about five years after graduating, but as he began to get more opportunities to direct, he realized that it was a career he wanted to explore more.
He got a job with Disney Theatricals, where he worked as assistant director on “Beauty and the Beast” on Broadway and for tours and international productions.
After about eight years with Disney, he worked on Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida” and began working with more established directors and developing his own projects.
“Before I knew it, it had been 10 years since I stepped on a stage and did anything,” Lenz said. “I thought ‘I don’t miss it.’ I never really decided that I would never do it again but I’m having such a good time.”
He worked as associate director to Jack O’Brien on Broadway shows like “Hairspray,” “Catch Me If You Can” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and eventually signed on to work as associate director with O’Brien on the national tour of “The Sound of Music,” which opened in 2015.
Lenz is acting as director on this leg of the tour, as O’Brien wasn’t available to return to the production, but Lenz said he is honoring the production the pair originally created.
His ride to director of “The Sound of Music” hasn’t been without a lot of hard work, but it’s unfolded much more smoothly than Lenz anticipated, a sure sign, in his opinion, that his choice to switch careers was the right one.
“When you’re constantly having to bang on doors that won’t open, you think ‘Maybe this isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing,’” he said. “Which brings me to one of the main, beautiful, philosophical themes about ‘The Sound of Music’ is it really is about what do you want to do with your life and what does God want you to do with your life, whatever you deem that to mean.”
“The Sound of Music” opens at the INB Performing Arts Center on Thursday and continues through Sunday.
Based on Maria von Trapp’s memoir “The Story of the Trapp Family Singers,” “The Sound of Music” features music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein and a Howard Lindsay- and Russel Crouse-penned book.
The Tony Award-winning musical was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film of the same name starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.
The national tour of “The Sound of Music” stars Jill-Christine Wiley as Maria Rainer, Mike McLean as Captain Georg von Trapp, Chad P. Campbell as Rolf Gruber, Lauren Kidwell as the Mother Abbess, Jake Mills as Max Detweiler, Melissa McKamie as Elsa Schraeder and Keslie Ward as Liesl.
Lenz is well aware that many people’s definitive “Sound of Music” experience comes from watching the movie.
Lenz himself recalls watching “The Sound of Music” for the first time as a young boy during Thanksgiving and credits that experience with inspiring him to pursue acting.
But, while he has nothing but good things to say about the movie, he does make note of a few differences between the two versions.
“There are even songs that don’t exist in the movie that were in the original Broadway show that are back,” he said. “We’re doing the original Broadway show but it just feels new because a lot of people haven’t seen it.”
“No Way to Stop It,” for example, is a song the characters of Elsa Schraeder and Max Detweiler sing in the musical, but not the film.
Other songs appear in both versions, just in different points in the story.
“The Lonely Goatherd,” which Maria and the children sing during a marionette show in the film, is sung by Maria to calm the children during a storm in the musical. In the film, Maria sings “My Favorite Things” to calm the children, while the stage version has Maria and the Mother Abbess singing the song in the latter’s office.
“As a person who works on musical all the time and develops new musicals, we always try to make the songs further the action or intentions of the characters,” Lenz said. “I believe Rodgers and Hammerstein originally laid it out in the particular order because it was clearly demonstrating what the characters’ intentions were.”
Lenz also said the film focuses primarily on the relationship between Maria and the von Trapp family while the Broadway version dives deeper into the politics and principles of 1938 Austria, many of which have become relevant today.
After two and a half years with the show, Lenz said “The Sound of Music” remains both richly human and rich in themes, including religion, politics, romance and loss.
“I will say that from a director’s standpoint, this piece provided more inspiration and depth than I think any of us would have thought …” he said. “It’s as richly complex as the human psyche. It’s really a great joy for all of us to continue to work on.”
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