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THEATER REVIEW: “The Sound Of Music”

It’s old, long, even a little sappy – and it gets me every time.

I’m talking about Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound Of Music,” now getting a splendid revival from San Diego Musical Theatre. Directed and choreographed by Todd Nielsen, the 1960 winner of five Tonys plays through May 26 at Birch North Park Theatre.

Based on the World War II-era true story of the Austrian Trapp Family Singers, “The Sound Of Music” tells how spunky young postulant Maria (Allison Spratt Pearce), deemed not ready for the monastic life at Nonnberg Abbey, is sent instead to become governess to the seven children of widowed submarine captain Georg von Trapp (Randall Dodge).

Von Trapp, clearly not yet over his wife’s death, is a militarized taskmaster who summons everyone in his household by a specific whistle, and feels his children should not play but instead march – in uniform. Consequently, he’s gone through many governesses.

Maria is young and inexperienced enough to subvert her boss’ instructions. When Georg refuses to provide playclothes, she uses the drapes from her room (which were slated for retirement anyway). Appalled at the lack of music in the house, she pulls out her guitar and proceeds (despite housekeeper Frau Schmidt’s assurance that music is verboten) to teach them the basics of music (“Do-Re-Mi”).

The philosophical push-pull between Maria and Georg about childraising is mirrored in the political disagreement between Georg and two other friends.

The play is set in 1938, right before the Anschluss. There are hints of coming bad times, but Georg, a proud Austrian, wants nothing to do with what he sees as the distasteful “go-along-to-get-along” attitude of malleable event entrepreneur Max Detweiler (David McBean). Frau Schraeder (Jill Van Velzer), a beautiful and rich widow (and friend of both) who might become the new Mrs. von Trapp, finds herself in the middle.

Of course, we all know who and what wins (and if you don’t, I’d advise you to see this fine production posthaste and find out), but the fun of this show is definitely in the musical trip that takes us there.

SDMT has assembled the finest cast I’ve ever seen for this show, headed by the very best Maria. Pearce’s gorgeous voice is equaled only by the completeness of her interpretation of the role, by which I mean the whole panoply of speech, subtle expressions and gestures that make us feel the emotional rollercoaster Maria experiences. It’s a stunning performance.

Dodge’s acting and singing are solid, as always, and and the chemistry he has with Pearce makes the story work.

Strong is another fine singing actress; her Mother Abbess sends us home happy with that lovely final high G ringing in our ears.

Van Velzer and McBean can belt out a song just fine, thank you, and act up a storm as well.

And the children. Where do I start? They were all terrific. Little Gretl, played by adorable 6-year-old Gabriella Dimmick in her first musical, will steal your heart.

At the other end of the age spectrum, Kelly Prendergast is exactly right for 16-year-old Liesl – young, hopeful, sweet and immensely talented.

And all those in between are equally fabulous: Jonas McMullen as Friedrich, Annie Buckley as Louisa, Luke Babbitt as Kurt, Katelyn Katz as Brigitta and Hourie Klijian as Marta. Congratulations all around.

I can’t leave out the splendid 23-member orchestra in the pit. Kudos to them and to music director/conductor Don Le Master for a fine job.

If you think you’ve seen “The Sound Of Music” enough times, make just one more trip to the Birch to see this one. It just might be definitive.

The details

San Diego Musical Theatre’s “The Sound Of Music” plays through May 26 at North Park Birch Theatre.

Thursday and Friday at 7:30 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

Tickets: (858) 560-5740 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.