Scene of von Trapp family performing in the summer 2022 Glimmerglass Festival production of “The Sound of Music.” (Glimmerglass Festival / photos by Karli Cadel)
Gorgeous sets, period costumes and tremendous performances make for an enchanting show
“Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”— opening lyrics to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s iconic “Do-Re-Me”
If you think you know the 1965 movie musical “The Sound of Music” back to front, Lyric Opera of Kansas City’s presentation may surprise you. This delightful, lush production of the popular musical comes to the stage of the Muriel Kauffman Theatre Nov. 4-12.
“We think it’s a very valid story to tell. It creates one of many pathways that we can travel to bring people to the opera and enjoy musical storytelling. It’s a fantastic product,” said Deborah Sandler Kemper, general director and CEO of Lyric Opera.
This production follows on the success of 2018’s “West Side Story,” which was the best-selling show in Lyric Opera’s history. “‘West Side Story’…brought more new people to Lyric Opera than any other show in the history of the company,” said Sandler Kemper. “There was clearly an appetite for it.”
Much of the creative team that created that production came together again for “The Sound of Music,” which premiered at the Glimmerglass Festival in 2022, including director Francesca Zambello, “one of the foremost directors of our time,” said Sandler Kemper, set designer Peter J. Davison, co-director Eric Sean Fogel — as choreographer this time — and lighting designer Mark McCullough. It was co-produced by Glimmerglass and Houston Grand Opera, which will present the show in 2024.
“The Sound of Music,” based on the 1949 memoir of Maria von Trapp, premiered on Broadway in 1959, with music written by the team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, with a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. It is a somewhat fictionalized account but stays true to the essence of the events. The musical was adapted into the 1965 film, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.
Reviewing the 2022 production for The Wall Street Journal, Heidi Waleson wrote: “Ms. Zambello’s direction made the Rodgers and Hammerstein show seem fresh rather than saccharine, and hearing the score played by a full orchestra, conducted by James Lowe, was a pleasure.”
Being able to bring “larger than Broadway” resources to the show expands on the familiar, said Sandler Kemper. Having the Kansas City Symphony as the pit orchestra brings out all the nuances and grandeur of the score. The orchestra will be led by Lowe, a Grammy Award-nominated conductor. “His facility with both standard rep and contemporary pieces and with Broadway is pretty remarkable,” said Sandler Kemper.
Many performers from the original cast will also come to Kansas City. Making their Lyric Opera debuts are Mikaela Bennett as Maria, Alyson Cambridge as Baroness Elsa Schraeder and Alexandra Loutsion as the Mother Abbess. The new members of the cast include Edward Watts as Captain von Trapp.
Bennett also performed the lead role — a very different Maria — in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s “West Side Story” (the same production seen here in Kansas City, directed by Zambello) in 2019. A reviewer for Chicago Classical Review wrote, “Bennett is blessed with a sensational soprano voice . . . fresh, radiant, pure of tone and flexible with secure top notes, there is a youthful innocence in her very timbre.”
The show also offers more music. Along with the songs familiar from the movie, this production retrieves two songs from the original musical: “How Can Love Survive” and “No Way To Stop It.”
“You’re getting the whole shebang here,” said Sandler Kemper.
These allow more development for characters like Baroness Elsa Schraeder and Max Detweiler. Schraeder isn’t necessarily a scheming elitist, as she’s portrayed in the movie, she’s “wiser and kinder,” said Sandler Kemper. Characters’ motives are more fleshed out, each with “his or her own stake in the unfolding story.”
Children also play a huge role in this show, with the five daughters and two sons of Captain von Trapp, in a range of ages, all acting and singing. Who could forget the iconic “So Long, Farewell”? For the Lyric Opera’s production, they are all local performers.
“I can’t tell you how joyful it is to put out a call for children to audition for ‘The Sound of Music’ and to be really impressed with who we have,” said Sandler Kemper. “It’s a wonderful showcase and a wonderful opportunity for kids to come to a musical like this and see kids like them on stage and say, ‘Hey, I think I’d like to do that.’ It’s opening up a door.”
While it is suitable for families, as those familiar with the story know, the show does contain some mature themes and displays of Nazi symbolism.
According to Sandler Kemper, Zambello emphasizes two important themes. “One has to do with the impending ugliness of the German Anschluss, the takeover, and Nazi regime, but at the same time, there’s the somewhat unlikely love story between Maria and Captain von Trapp,” said Sandler Kemper.
That’s part of what makes the story so enduring — the personal perspectives woven into global events.
“Everybody learns from everyone else in this story, and they take us on that ride,” said Sandler Kemper.
With gorgeous sets, period costumes and, of course, tremendous performances, it’s an enchanting show. “I was charmed by it,” said Sandler Kemper, referencing the Glimmerglass performance. “It’s a production that does make you smile.”
“The Sound of Music” runs Nov. 4, 8, 10, 11 and 12 at the Kauffman Center. For more information and tickets, kcopera.org.