So just how popular is the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II 1959 stage classic “The Sound of Music”? You could see a different production of the show twice a day every day for an entire year and you’d still miss hundreds of the “Sound of Music” stagings licensed annually by the Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein Organization (an Imagem Company).
‘THE SOUND OF MUSIC’ When: June 7 through June 19 Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph Tickets: $24-$90 Info: (800) 775-2000; http: Broadwayinchicago.com
“It’s really our calling card,” says R&H Organization president and producer Theodore Chapin, “We license around 1,000 different productions every year.” Those “different productions” included Lyric Opera’s take on the stage musical in 2014, and the hit NBC/Carrie Underwood live television presentation in2013.
The latest major stage revival – a big-budget, Equity affair directed by three-time Tony winner Jack O’Brien —runs June 7 through June 19 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. Fans of the 1965 film version be warned: This isn’t a stage version of the Oscar-winning movie. Rest assured, the beloved score, which includes iconic numbers such as “Edelweiss,” “Do-Re-Mi” “Climb Every Mountain” and the rapturous title tune, is intact. So is the story of troubled aspiring nun Maria Ranier, who leaves the convent to work as a governess for the seven neglected children of an emotionally shut-down widower.
Still, the differences are significant. There’s no puppet show about lonely goats. “My Favorite Things” does not take place during a thunderstorm. “Do-Re-Mi” is not a unilaterally joyous celebration of music performed by an impeccably voiced septet of adorably enthusiastic children. And when Maria takes to the hills in that opening scene? The giddy twirls of the movie are gone, replaced by a sobering emphasis on lyrics that speak of a heart that is lonely and a nun-in-training who only feels alive far from the convent.
“There’s been a tendency over the years to try and replicate the movie on stage,” says Chapin, “I adore the movie, don’t get me wrong. But there’s a lot of stuff in it – the goat puppets, the happy twirling in the opening shot, the panoramic shots of the Alps – that sort of overlook the essence of the play.”
Take, for example, that iconic opening shot of Juile Andrews in the film version ecstatically cavorting in an Alpine meadow. “The whole reason she’s up there is because she’s troubled,” points of O’Brien, “She’s not happy with her life as a postulant. It’s right there in the lyrics. She’s not sure about becoming a nun. She’s running away from the abbey and expressing that where she feels truly alive is in nature. You don’t get that in the movie.”
There’s another significant shift as Maria teaches Captain von Trapp’s unruly children how to sing. In the movie, the kids are vocal prodigies and dancing from the first hyper-enthusiastic “doe-a-deer.”
“You’d think there was choreographer living upstairs the way the kids perform that song in the movie,” says Chapin, “There’s also no resistance from the kids, even though it’s supposed to be the scene where Maria wins them over. I wanted to really show that process. They don’t like her at first. They don’t want to sing when the number starts. Once they do start singing? They’re not instantly great at it. Jack shows all that. He brings out the emotions and the story as much as the music.”
O’Brien has also brought on a Maria who is less than half the age that Mary Martin was when “The Sound of Music” debuted on Broadway. Kerstin Anderson, 21, was a sophomore at Pace University when she showed up to “Sound of Music’ auditions. Chapin vividly recalls being unimpressed at first.
“She was dreadfully dressed,” he says, “She looked like somebody’s very silly idea of somebody who was supposed to be vaguely Germanic. Her hair was pulled in this tiny braid around her head. She was wearing this green lace-up dress. Then she started singing and I was like, Oh, okay. That’s Maria.”
O’Brien had a similar reaction.
“I’ve always believed Maria was a ‘star-making’ part, rather than the leading role we remember from the movies,” he said in an email, “I [was] looking for someone with star-making magic. Kerstin opened her mouth, sang, and the tears welled up in my eyes. If ever there were an enchanting young woman standing on the brink of discovery — this was it.”
In all, says Chapin, the current incarnation of “The Sound of Music” gets back the show’s roots.
“It has an exceptional story. It talks about dysfunctional families, which everyone can relate too. There’s a darkness, a threat hovering over the entire narrative – the Nazis- which keeps it from being overly sweet. And that score. The score is amazing,” Chapin says. “I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve seen ‘Sound of Music’ over the years. It gets to me every time.”
Catey Sullivan is a local freelance writer.