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North Carolina Theatre Preview: NCT's Sound of Music Stars David Wood and the von Trapp Great-Grandchildren

July 10, 2003 - Raleigh, NC:


If memory serves, the award-winning motion-picture version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music, produced and directed by Robert Wise and starring Julie Andrews as Maria and Christopher Plummer as Capt. Georg von Trapp, opened at the palatial Ambassador Theatre in the heart of downtown Raleigh, NC, in 1965 and ran continuously for the next couple of years. The film earned 10 Academy Award nominations and won five 1966 Oscars, including the highly prized golden statuettes for best picture (Wise); director (Wise again); film editing (William Reynolds); music, scoring of music, adaptation or treatment (Irwin Kostal); and sound (James Corcoran and Fred Hynes).

The North Carolina Theatre is gambling that the Triangle's once-raging love affair with The Sound of Music can be revived. Indeed, NCT has sweetened the pot by casting ailing, but improving, Theatre in the Park founder and executive and artistic director Ira David Wood, III as Capt. von Trapp and a quartet of Georg and Maria von Trapp's great-grandchildrenSofia, 14, Melanie, 12, Amanda, 11, and Justin, 8as four of the seven von Trapp children.

These stage novices are the grandchildren of Werner von Trapp, who was called "Kurt von Trapp" in the movie version of The Sound of Music. The North Carolina Theatre proudly claims that this is the first time that any von Trapp family member has performed in a production of this perennially popular Broadway musical.

Sofia von Trapp will play Louisa, Melanie von Trapp will play Brigitta, Amanda von Trapp will play Marta, and Justin von Trapp will play Kurt.

"They have been just absolutely terrific," says Seattle-based director/choreographer Stephen Terrell. "They've never done theater before, so this is all new to them. They have been ready and willing and eager to learn and very excited about it. So, they've been great."

He adds, "They're really terrific kids. They're a really wonderful family and care about each other and work together very well. Having them around is a real reminder to everyone that this is a true story. We are trying our best to honor their history and do a good job."

"It's a great honor to share the stage with [the von Trapp great-grandchildren]," says David Wood. "I find myself wondering if they really understand the 'profoundness' of this chapter in their lives. They are exactly the right agesand that's such a transitory thing. There is a finite block of time during which they will be able to play these roles. What a rare treat for an audienceto be able to say that they saw the von Trapp great-grandchildren in The Sound of Music!

"Another 'plus' is the fact that they aren't professional child actors," Wood claims. "Their reactions are real and very honest. There is a purity in what they doand it's refreshing to be part of it."

Wood says he's delighted to share top billing with the next generation of von Trapp family singers. "In my opinion, they are the show," says David Wood. "All of the rest of us are revolving around them. The love story between the Captain and Maria [Off-Broadway actress Danette Holden] is therebut it seems more reinforced by having these kids onstage with us. We're there for them. There's been a unique bonding that's added a wonderful poignancy to this production."

David Wood, who has been battling a difficult-to-diagnose illness in recent months, relishes the challenge of playing strait-laced former World War I Austrian submarine commander Capt. Georg von Trapp. "I've always responded to challenges," says Wood, "and NCT has certainly provided a large share of them. It's given me the opportunity to share the stage with Broadway talentand to reconfirm that I can carry my own weight.

"Larger-than-life characters are still based on real people and real personality traits," Wood explains. "When truth and honesty are at the foundation of your work, having your character break into a song or dance seems to be a very natural thing. It is an adjustment, but a delightful one."

The 56-year-old Raleigh actor and director confesses, "In order to have the needed onstage energy, I've found it necessary to limit my activity offstage. There is simply no energy to waste.

"In a very real way," Wood admits, "it's actually helped me become more focused on the work and on the character. I'm feeling better, but the medical lab results haven't improved as much as we'd likeso I'm still undergoing tests.

"We ask our audiences to suspend their disbelief," Wood says. "I ask my body to suspend my illness while I'm onstage. So far, it's been very agreeable. Working on this show has been a tonic in many ways. I'm surrounded by such wonderful actors! I feel buoyed by their energy and talent."

Director/choreographer Stephen Terrell has nothing but praise for his ill but game leading man. "He's a really wonderful guy," says Terrell. "It's a very different kind of role for him, and he seems to be enjoying it. He's terrific.... [H]e's a really good age [to play Capt. von Trapp], and he brings a lot of experience to the role"

Based on Maria von Trapp's autobiography The Story of the Trapp Family Singers (1949), The Sound of Music is set in Austria in 1938. The inevitable clash between the irrepressible free spirit Maria Rainer, a postulant from Nonnberg Abbey in Salzburg (http://www2.salzburg.info/) hired as a governess for the von Trapp children, and her somewhat martinet-like employer, the widowed former naval officer Georg von Trapp, provides on of the most memorable romances in musical-theater history.

The rise of Naziism and the Anschluß (i.e., the March 9, 1938, annexation of Austria by Hitler's Germany) provides an ominous background for the musical's more light-hearted moments as the musically talented governess and her employer marry and perform with the children as the Trapp Family Singers, singing German folk and liturgical songs. After escaping from the Nazis via a terrifying journey through the Austrian Alps, the von Trapp family eventually settled in Stowe, Vermont, where their descendants run a lodge (http://www.trappfamily.com/).

The Sound of Music, which was the final collaboration between composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein, II, debuted on November 16, 1959 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York City. It starred Mary Martin as Maria and Theodore Bikel as Captain von Trapp, ran for 1,443 performances, and won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical (a tie with Fiorello!). (Note: Joe Layton, the long-time director/choreographer of The Lost Colony outdoor drama in Manteo, NC, staged the original production's musical numbers.)

This splendid show, with a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, ultimately became the second-longest-running Broadway musical of the 1950s, thanks to a magnificent score that included the title tune, "My Favorite Things," "Do-Re-Mi," "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," and "Edelweiss." The 1965 film won five Oscars, including Best Picture.

Terrell says, "My introduction to The Sound of Music, like most people of my generation, was the movie in 1965. I just thought it was about the greatest thing I'd ever seen.... I did my first production of it in Seattle this past fall. I really, really enjoyed working on it."

He admits, "For me, like a lot of people my age [Terrell is 46], [seeing The Sound of Music] was just such a formative experience when I was growing up and becoming aware of musicals. It is just such a touchstone."

The Sound of Music is the third full-scale Broadway musical that Stephen Terrell has directed and choreographed for the North Carolina Theatre. (He previously staged vivacious versions of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas in 2000 and Guys and Dolls in 2001.)

The NCT production of The Sound of Music will be substantially different from his Seattle production of the musical, says Terrell, who spent the last 15 years in Seattle and is moving to Boston in August to become the head of the musical-theater program at Emerson College in Boston.

"I've had to modify [directorial concept]," Terrell says, "because [this NCT presentation] is a very, very different production than my production in Seattle. This is a rented production. It has a big, gorgeous set. That's great, and the production I did in Seattle was done in a medium-sized theater. It had a very different look. When you're using someone else's [sets and costumes], you have to adapt your ideas to what you are given."

According to NCT resident costume designer Denise Schumaker, the show's set and costumes were originally designed and built for the American Musical Theatre of San Jose, California. She says NCT technical designer Christopher "CJ" Johnson and master carpenter Curtis Jones added a few set pieces and enhanced the visually striking work of original scenic designer J.B. Wilson, and she created additional costumes to add to the plush period wardrobe devised by original costume designer Cathleen Edwards.

"[This production] is really big," says Stephen Terrell. "It's been a real challenge to make it all fit on [the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium] stage, even as big as our stage is. It's really lovely and very impressive. I think the audience will oo and ah a bit."

Terrell notes, "The stage show [of The Sound of Music] is very different from the movie.... If you've never seen it on stage, it's substantially different from the movie. It will be very interesting for [first-time viewers of the stage version] to see it, and see what the surprises are."

Terrell says, "There are a couple of additional songs that are not in the movie [i.e., 'How Can Love Survive,' sung by Elsa and Max and 'There's No Way To Stop It,' sung by Elsa, Max, and the Capt.]. There are two songs ['My Favorite Things' and 'The Lonely Goatherd'] that are in different places in the story than they are in the movie."

Stephen Terrell claims, "The Sound of Music is not a difficult show to stage. It's fairly simple and straightforward as musicals go.

"The main reason for that," he adds, "is that there's very little dancing in the show, and there are also very few large crowd scenes. So, that makes it much easier to stage than a lot of big dance musicals [e.g., Oklahoma! or A Chorus Line or any of the Bob Fosse shows]. It's easier than any big dance musical, because it takes less time to stage."

David Wood says NCT audiences for The Sound of Music will enjoy "the kids, the freshness, and the assembled talent. It's a chance to visit with an old friend and discover something completely new about him or hersomething you never knew before."

"Audiences bring so much to a production like this," says director/choreographer Stephen Terrell, "because they have a long history with it. It will be interesting to see how they respond to actually seeing it in the flesh."

"Come prepared to be entertained and moved by what you see and hear," Wood adds. [The Sound of Music is] a marvelous play for the entire family to share together. It's a rare opportunity to see something... unique. Don't miss the chance."

The North Carolina Theatre presents The Sound of Music Friday, July 11, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, July 12, at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, July 13, at 2 and 7 p.m.; Tuesday-Friday, July 15-18, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, July 19, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, July 20, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 East South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. (Note: Audio description will be available at the July 19 matinee.) $18-$60. 919/834-4000 (Ticketmaster) or 919/831-6950 (NCT box office) or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venue/115203. NCT: http://www.nctheatre.com/; Broadway Musical: http://www.rnh.com/theatre/index.html [inactive 8/03]; Motion Picture: http://www.foxhome.com/soundofmusic/index_frames.html [inactive 5/04]; and Von Trapp Family: http://www.trappfamily.com/index2.tmpl?content=news.html.