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WCT projects are supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin.
By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic
September 18, 2014
WAUKESHA - "The Sound of Music" by Rodgers and Hammerstein has been around for more than 50 years. Its long life can be attributed to its music and a fascinating story that is based on a true happening. It combines a touch of monastic life, the excitement of first love, the charm of children, adult romance, intrigue, the demands of political change and the responses these experiences elicited in various characters.
And even though the story is told against a backdrop of the Nazi takeover of Austria and the struggles of those who opposed it, the general ambience of the show is pervasive with light, love and a generous dose of humor.
The Waukesha Civic Theatre, in its tradition of putting on wonderful musical productions, has only enhanced its reputation. This lovely show will certainly draw big crowds, and deservedly so. The main roles are very well cast, and the profusion of subsidiary roles is nicely executed by a generous group of over 30 talented actors. It is always a joy to see so many eager participants.
When we first meet Maria, ala Shannon Messplay, she is childlike, dreamy and idealistic, and yet sincerely wishes to be admitted into the Nonnberg Abbey as a nun. However, the Mother Abbess and several other members of the congregation don’t think that Maria is ready to lead a life of silence and prayer and self-abnegation. The lyric line, "How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?" pretty well sums up the problem. It is hard to harness Maria’s exuberance in a habit.
So she is sent to the VonTrapp estate to be a governess to his seven children who have recently lost their mother and managed to frustrate a long line of overwhelmed governesses. A challenge awaits Maria, not only from the children, but even moreso from their father, Captain Von Trapp, who tries to run his family like a military camp. Not to worry. Maria knows how to stand up to him, unlike the other hired help who are compliant to his face but disgruntled behind his back.
Messplay is a good fit for the part. She is naive, spontaneous, lovable and spunky. She also has a lovely voice, but it was a bit too soft in a couple of numbers. Captain Von Trapp is nicely rendered by Craig Kurjanski, who accomplished his transformation as Maria softens his cynical shell and he once again becomes a loving father and husband.
Another important figure in the drama is Mother Abbess, a wise, generous woman, who represents a truly holy figure who belies the usual caricature of nuns as being silly or mean. Carrie Gray has a voice to match the Abbess’s sterling character. Her delivery of "Climb Every Mountain" is one of the highlights of the show.
Andrew Gratke as Max Detweier captures his wiliness as the self-serving accommodator, a man of weak principles and a strong need for survival. Herr Rolf as the young man with a swagger and a willingness to desert Liesl to save his own skin is effectively portrayed by Matt Welden. In the end, we forgive him for his expediency when he takes a risk and makes a strong decision on his own. We forgive Max a bit, too, when he helps the Von Trapp family.
Katy Oberle fits her role perfectly as the rich, successful Elsa Schraeder, a woman who is not about to give up fame and fortune for any ethical principle or marry a man who could be attracted to such a commoner as Maria.
The children are absolutely delightful. Jack Burns, Elena and Jude Cramer, Alyssa Casarez, Elle Erato, Sydney Johnson and Mara Hoffman are impressive in their acting and singing abilities. Elena Cramer is especially effective as Liesl.
Many of the songs in this musical have resonated beyond this show: "My Favorite Things," "The Sound of Music" and "Do-Re-Mi" can live in any context. And "Edelweiss," so sweetly and soulfully rendered by Kurjanski, will not soon be forgotten.
Musically, the religious hymns are delivered with power and reverence, and soul-stirring harmonies and provide a strong contrast to some of the lighter pieces. Musical director Jason Brinker deserves notable credit as does director John Cramer for this charming, moving opener to the 58th season of the Waukesha Civic Theatre. It would be a shame to miss this one.
Play successfully climbs every mountain
By Marilyn Jozwik
Sept. 15, 2014
While the roles of Maria and the Captain in the "The Sound of Music" are pivotal, it is the performances of the seven young actors who play the roles of the Von Trapp children that bring joy and life to the show.
Waukesha Civic Theatre's version of the beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein musical assembled an enchanting septet of children who sang and danced their way into our hearts at the opening night show.
Theater-goers have John Cramer to thank for that. Under Cramer's direction, the kids were likable and fun-loving, sang and danced beautifully and provided light moments during the heavy political climate of 1938 Austria coming under Nazi control. Two of the children were Cramer's own: daughter Elena as Liesl and son Jude as Friedrich.
But the fine performances didn't stop with the children. The cast is first-rate, pretty much from top to bottom.
"The Sound of Music" can present problems for community theater because most everyone knows the story and many of the songs. They've seen the movie starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer and perhaps other local shows. There are many comparisons to be made and high expectations.
However, the story never seems to get old.
The flighty nun-in-training Maria (Shannon Messplay) is sent by the Mother Abbess (Carrie Gray) to be the nanny for Captain Georg Von Trapp's (Craig Kurjanski) seven children because her penchant for breaking into song and breaking the convent rules doesn't make her a good fit for the convent.
Maria finds she is falling in love with the Captain, and vice versa, and retreats to the convent to sort out her confused feelings. The Mother Abbess sends her back, to the delight of the children and the Captain, who has proposed to a wealthy baroness, Elsa Schraeder (Katy Oberle), in Maria's absence.
After Maria and the Captain marry, he is offered a commission in the German navy, which he refuses. His friend Max (Andrew Gratke) arranges for the children to sing in an annual Austrian competition, which saves the family from becoming embroiled in the political turmoil descending upon the country and forces the Captain to make tough moral choices.
It would be easy for a director to want to put his own stamp on the show: make Maria too plucky, the Captain too unapproachable, the nuns too pious, Max too smarmy, the kids too cute. Cramer has taken great care of this lovable work. As with grandma's fragile china, he wants to make sure all the pieces stay intact.
As Maria, Messplay has a perfect voice for the iconic tunes and never disappointed in providing just what the audience was expecting, and more. "The Lonely Goatherd" was a wonderfully joyous romp with the children, displaying her incredible range and vocal flexibility. However, her performance seemed a little too measured and at times her voice was too quiet. It would be great to see her ratchet it up a notch to match the children's energy.
The handsome Kurjanski had a confident appearance and cultured demeanor befitting his Captain character. His scenes with Maria were most tender.
I especially liked Oberle's portrayal of the baroness. She was coy and flirtatious with the staid Captain, and her body language, facial expressions and voice intonations conveyed so much about her character. Two songs that were not in the movie, "How Can Love Survive" and "There's No Way to Stop It," were charmingly rendered by Oberle, as well as Gratke and Kurjanski.
There were many delightful moments throughout, including the playful exchanges between Sister Magaretta (Mary Melter) and Sister Berthe (Patty Wilson) in "Maria," as well as Melter's comic touches throughout.
A highlight of the show was Gray's rendition of "Climb Every Mountain," as the Mother Abbess, that gave me goosebumps. Gray led a gaggle of nuns that sang the Latin hymns beautifully.
But it's the kids that really engaged. Unlike the mechanical children on the recent TV version of the show starring Carrie Underwood, these kids were truly kids. You could picture them bringing a toad in to scare the last governess. Elena Cramer and Matthew Welden as Rolf were exquisite in "Sixteen Going on Seventeen," while Alyssa Casarez brought an amazing soprano to the children's lovely harmonies. The scene between the wise Brigitta, played by Elle Erato, and Maria after the Captain dances with Maria is wonderfully done.
Staging it all
A versatile set moved quickly and easily from the stained glass windows of the abbey to the rich-looking Von Trapp home. I loved the buttery tones and white accents of that set and the way it complemented Maria's earth-toned clothing, hat and luggage.
A tip of the cap to Sallie Burkard for her costuming, which had the kids looking great in their matching sailor suits, play clothes, and dress clothes in lovely rainbow pastel shades contrasting the mostly black garb of the guests at the Von Trapp home.
The whole show, like Cramer's 2013 "Oklahoma," had a sense of lightness and fun, plus first-rate vocals and fine performances to make this a most worthy take on the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic.
Jim stepped up to help coordinate the movement of set pieces back-stage in additional to his on-stage role as Franz. He came in early to ensure that everything was ready for the show, he moved set pieces and operated the curtain when he was back-stage, and he was cheerful and friendly to all. One cast mate said "the amazing back-stage ballet would not have been as smooth & flawless without him."