In the sober darkness of an Austrian abbey, church bells ring out, and the Mother Abbess lifts a song to the heavens. She is joined by the ethereal voices of her fellow sisters – or, rather, all but one of her sisters. The exception, Maria, instead sings to the hills as she travels alone in the mountains that cradle Nonnberg Abbey.
Spokane Valley Summer Theatre’s production of “The Sound of Music,” which opened Friday night, instantly enraptures its audience with “Preludium,” led by the astounding vocal talent of Patti Mortier in her performance as the Mother Abbess.
The ensemble women portraying the other members of the abbey and she radiate a stoic spirituality, immersing the audience in a sense of authenticity. Their vocal performance opens the show with a remarkable display of talent. Of special note are the voices of Darnelle Preston (Sister Berthe), Jaycelane Fortin (Sister Margaretta) and Samantha Schneider (Sister Sophia).
The stage goes quiet, and a single spotlight transports the audience to the mountains, where we find Maria, played by Jennifer Tindall. Tindall effortlessly continues to carry the vocal strength with which the show opened in her performance of the play’s title song.
Tindall’s Maria is graceful and calm. Throughout, she uses her elegant singing talent to craft the expressions and nuances of Maria’s character. This eloquence is especially needed during the first half of the story, where Maria is struggling to find her place in the world and is filled with the inner conflict between her free spirit and her genuine desire to do good by God and fellow man. Without a strong sense of character yet developed by the story, Tindall instead finds the essence of Maria in song.
In a test of her readiness for monastic life, the Mother Abbess sends Maria to the von Trapp family villa, where she is to care for Capt. Georg von Trapp’s seven children.
The children are Liesl (Maddie Burgess), Friedrick (Kyle Adams), Louisa (Noelle Fries), Kurt (Caden Adams), Brigitta (Alex Read), Marta (Mackenzie Kelly) and Gretl (Pearl Wollenhaupt).
Perhaps unfairly advantaged by playing the youngest of the group, Wollenhaupt can’t help but steal the show with her wide-eyed charm and surprising vocal control. It’s quite impossible to hold back an enamored smile when she tells you that “the sun has gone to bed, and so must I.”
Burgess does an excellent job carrying the coming-of-age storyline, blending unquestioned confidence, naiveté and decorum to flesh out the complexities of being a young woman in love in the late 1930s. Her vocal talent adds an impressive polish to it all.
Read is remarkable for her age, showing command and understanding of her character. Alongside Kyle and Caden Adams, Fries and Kelly, these young actors do not disappoint in their delivery of the classic antics and charisma of the von Trapp family children.
Michael Muzatko, with furrowed face held high, portrays the hardened Captain von Trapp. He seamlessly crafts the Captain’s transition from a bitter sternness to rediscovered warmth as he is won over by Maria’s spirit, all the while maintaining the serious poise of a proud military man. It is toward the end of the story that Muzatko’s performance takes full form in a display of his vocal expertise and ability to express depth in such a restrained character.
Elsa Schraeder, a rich baroness and potential future wife of the Captain, is played by Katie Howitt, who seems perfect for the part. Her mannerisms and demeanor produce a baroness that the audience secretly loves to root against but still maintains a genuine humanity for the character and avoids allowing it to fall into any evil stepmother tropes.
Paired alongside Doug Dawson, who delivers an energetic and hilarious Max Detweiler, the two have great chemistry as they play out Schraeder and Detweiler’s unavoidably scheming natures.
Under the direction of Yvonne A.K. Johnson, “The Sound of Music” maintains all its original magic. The characters took until the latter half of the show to feel truly lived in, but the world-building, assisted by Muzatko, who pulls double duty as the set designer, creates a vivid setting for the audience and provides a strong foundation for the actors to flourish.
The music direction by conductor David Brewster was a highlight of the production, with every performer and musician filling the stage with truly lovely sound and talent.
“The Sound of Music” requires high levels of collaboration and technical performance from cast and crew to pull off its scope. Johnson did a terrific job tying it all together, all while upholding the transcendent romance and spirit for which this story is known. It’s a prime opportunity to revisit this well-loved production on a local stage.
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