Review of The Sound of Music at the Kirkwood Theatre Guild

    In his curtain speech, Kirkwood Theatre Guild president Ken Lopinot noted that in the company’s ninety-one years, this is the first time it has done The Sound of Music. It’s a very popular show, done multiple times at The Muny and other theatres. Why not at Kirkwood?

    As I watched the production, I got some hints as to why they might have hesitated. The Sound of Music is a big show, with some big scenes – mountain vistas, a splendid decorated chapel for Maria’s wedding, some Nazi grandeur for the big music festival. At Kirkwood, Director Lori Renna, Set Designer Tim Grumich, and Scenic Artist Kristin Meyer found inventive ways to give at least some splendor to each – fortunately not so much to the Nazis.

    The stage at the Reim Theatre has enough room, but because of its semi-thrust configuration and short stage-house, it doesn’t permit much flying of scenery. Stages did some amazing things with it, but I suspect their budget is a little bigger. And The Sound of Music was written for a Broadway theatre, which can hang in the flies all the drops you might want. 

    So The Sound of Music, like most musicals until the last twenty or thirty years, was written with alternating small scenes and big scenes. The small scenes could be played downstage in front of a drop that concealed the big scenes being set up upstage, and the show kept moving.

    I admired the efficiency of Stage Manager Lori Potts and her crew in moving beds and couches and chairs and tables in the darkness between scenes. Still, it is a break in the show’s pacing, and this cast did a fine job of picking it up after the scene change and moving it along. The one staging that bothered me was scenes in the Mother Abbess’s office, which was just a desk and chairs down right, open to the rest of the stage, and some of the sisters would wander by it now and then, which seemed wrong for the Mother Abbess’s intimate meeting with Maria, though it did save the time of setting up a couple of flats for the office..

    But that meeting did lead to Caetlyn Van Buren singing Mother Abbess’s encouragement to Maria, “Climb Every Mountain,” which we had all been eagerly awaiting, and our wait was rewarded. 

    The cast did well throughout. Kelsey Bearman took Maria through the changes from a very young woman who is great with the Von Trapp children to a troubled young woman falling in love with the Captain to a supportive wife leading the family over her mountain. And she can sing. Seth  Acock’s Captain also had to change, from the rigid military routine he used to support him in his loss of his wife to become the man who found music and a wife again and commitment to his country, though I was sorry that his voice was a little weak on “Edelweiss.” 

    Costume Designer Lisa Haselhorst had to make Maria look dowdy when she was first out of the habit, but Haselhorst was able to compensate with her splendid high-1930’s-fashion gowns for Kristen Meyer, who can wear them, as the wealthy Elsa Schrader, engaged for a time to the captain, and a fine actor and singer. Justin Bouckaert captures exactly the right tone and style for Max Detweiler, a friend of the Captain and of Elsa Schrader and a musical producer who is organizing the Kaltzberg Festival, using the Captain’s house and telephone as his office to line up singers. He does comedy well too. 

    The Von Trapp children, of course, steal every scene they are in. Ava Berutti, as Liesl, sixteen going on seventeen, is going on maybe twenty-three and ready for the adult roles now, which I look forward to. Jack Shadden partnered her well as the nice boy from the telegraph office who turns not so nice and then finds his true feelings again in time. Musical Director Sean Bippen and Choreographer Elilzabeth Grun have the children tight as clockwork for “So Long, Farewell,” but the children keep a human element in it. Asher Woodward as Friedrich and Henry Rigan as Kurt are the two boys. Bella Crank is Louisa, Mia Battaglia is Brigitta the Truth-Teller, Skylar Hagerty is Marta, and Sydney Roberts is little Gretl. 

    Rebecca Hatlelid as Sister Berthe, Maura Floretta as Sister Margaretta, and Heather Fehl as Sister Sophia advise Mother Abbess on how to deal with the lively postulant Maria. Maureen Smith is just right as Frau Schmidt, the housekeeper, and Stephen Howard as Franz, the butler. Robert Jones is a neighbor, Baron Ellberfeld, Alec Hatchell is Admiral Van Schreiber, of the German navy, come to escort Captain Von Trapp to his new command, and Tom Day is another neighbor, Herr Zeller, now the Nazi ruler of the region and quite a nasty fellow. 

    A large ensemble fills in the nuns at the abbey, party guests at the Von Trapps, and others as needed, all well prepared and presenting their characters.

    Stephanie Robinson designed the lighting, nicely adjusted to indoors and outdoors and time of day, John “JT” Taylor designed the sound, and Miriam Whatley is the Props Master.

    Kirkwood’s is a fine production of this much-loved musical. And if limited resources made the wedding of Maria and the Captain less extravagant than some I have seen, I much preferred keeping the chapel simple with nuns standing in a line in front of the altar, facing us and the wedding party, giving the couple their loving support in a way that a carved reredos could not.

    —Bob WilcoxPhoto by Dan Donovan Photography
    The von Trapp children greet Maria (Kelsey Bearman) in The Sound of Music.