Dreams came true on the Western Albemarle High School stage the weekend of March 14-16—Maria’s, Captain von Trapp’s, his seven love-deprived children’s, and the many talented students’ who more than did justice to Rodgers & Hammerstein’s melodic 1965 classic, The Sound of Music. The WAHS theatre ensemble gets better every year, and everyone I talked to in the packed house—including a busload from the Old Trail Lodge, who know a superior theater opportunity when they see one—agreed that this year’s spring musical bordered on professional quality. Every aspect of the full-scale production, directed by Caitlin Pitts with assistant directors Max Jung and Eli Jessee, vocal direction by Amber Blakovich, orchestral direction by Joel Hartshorn, set design by Eli Jessee and Malinda Smith, choreography by Arina Bratkovska and Abby Cole, and poster design by Isabelle Jordan, brought together outstanding acting, fabulous singing, stunning sets, striking costumes, brilliant staging, and charming choreography into a transcendent evening of joyful creativity.
Based on Maria von Trapp’s real life memoir The Story of the Trapp Family Singers (check out the biography on YouTube), this beloved musical tells the story of a zestful young nun who, chafing under convent discipline, is assigned to become governess to a widow’s seven children in 1938. Maria’s joie de vivre, love of music, and generosity of spirit bring the family closer as a mutual love develops between Maria and Captain von Trapp. But the innocence of true love is soon shattered by the alarming pronouncement that “the Anschluss is coming!”—the Nazis’ ‘name for the “joining” of Austria to Germany. As soon as the Nazi occupation takes place, decorated navy captain Georg von Trapp is conscripted into the German navy and must make the decision to collaborate or flee. Under the guise of a singing performance at the Salzburg Festival, the courageous von Trapp family makes its harrowing escape right under the Nazis’ noses—first to the sympathetic Abbey, and then over the Alps to freedom in neutral Switzerland.
Before the curtain opened, Ms. Pitts spoke to the audience about the historical setting, about which she also wrote in her Director’s Note. “We had many discussions … and a history lesson from one of our teachers on the Nazi regime in Austria. We decided it was important to accurately depict the symbols of that regime, which is why there are swastikas on the SS officers’ armbands and [on flags] at the festival. We use these symbols not to condone hatred and oppression, but as an accurate representation of history. It is appropriate that these symbols… make us uncomfortable; we need to remember our history in order to learn to move beyond hatred.” She also asked the audience not to photograph these symbols, or post them on social media. Thursday night’s dress rehearsal was given for the benefit of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
The audience was immediately drawn in as an impressive chorus of 25 nuns processed through the audience, holding candles and singing the ethereal “Preludium” a cappella (if you’ve ever sung this way, you know how difficult it is!). They soon filled a stage adorned with an ingenious, flexible wheeled set, which could quickly convert from the convent abbey to the luxurious von Trapp mansion and garden, framed by a stunning alpine backdrop. Evelyn Gary, whose glorious voice and sweet, contagious smile brought true joy and musicality to the part of Maria Rainer, soon swept us into the central theme of the joy of music—and, specifically, singing. Indulge this joy at the Crozet Chorus concert on Saturday, April 6, at 4 p.m. at Crozet Baptist Church!
Like the nuns, the supremely talented actors and singers who portrayed the von Trapp children easily handled the difficult harmonies in “Do-Re-Mi” and “My Favorite Things.” Arina Bratkovsa as Liesl and Brayden Crickenberger as Rolf delighted us with their charming duet and dance in “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” Henley sixth-grader Finnegan Driscoll as Friedrich reached the stratosphere with his crystalline high note at the end of “So Long, Farewell.” Henry Davies as the flamboyant “Uncle” Max Detweiler is a charismatic actor whose sophisticated stage presence, hilarious antics, and fine voice nearly stole the show. Noel Brockett was suitably sophisticated (and snooty) as Baroness Elsa Schrader, and Ian Kenworthy was duly slimy as Admiral von Schreiber. Peyton Beaumont gave a wise and mature performance as the Mother Abbess, singing “Climb Every Mountain” in her rich, strong contralto voice. “How does God want you to spend your love?” she asks Maria in one of the show’s most poignant moments, when Maria questions trading her commitment to God for her new commitment to a man.
But the true standout of the show was Tristan Rose as Captain von Trapp. I imagine his gorgeous tenor voice, sensitive acting, self-possessed poise, and good looks made more than just Maria’s heart flutter. The show’s only disappointment was that we heard too little of his dulcet singing, mainly in “Something Good” and “Edelweiss” late in the second act. Having greatly enjoyed his superb performances over the years—e.g. as Emmet in Legally Blonde and the Minstrel in Once Upon a Mattress, we congratulate him on his graduation and sincerely hope he will continue to pursue a musical career in in college and beyond.
One major factor that made this show come alive was the brilliant staging and lively choreography by Arina Bratkovska, Abby Cole, and Ms. Pitts herself. There was never a dull moment on stage, with complex but polished movement amplifying the story and placing the many actors exactly where they needed to be at each moment. There were even dancing nuns! Bold staging enhanced the comedic quintet “How Can Love Survive?” and real chemistry lit up the stage during Georg’s graceful folk dance with Maria, “Ländler”—the haunting tune of which is still running through my mind. It was a joy to watch!
The opening nuns’ procession was only one of many ways this original production broke through the “fourth wall” between stage and audience, creating a welcome sense of audience interaction. As Maria was teaching the children how to sing in “Do-Re-Mi,” she came down from the stage and borrowed the conductor’s baton to lead the children on stage. At the festival, Nazi actors were sitting in the audience (in seats previously marked “Reserved”), shocking us when they shouted in anger at the von Trapps’ failure to emerge to receive their first place prize. After their clandestine escape, the nine von Trapps depart through the audience, as if the sloped aisle were the mountains themselves (when “Climb Every Mountain” becomes more than a metaphor). Finally, the audience was invited to sing along during what I considered the dramatic and emotional highlight of the show—Tristan Rose’s stirring and wistful rendition of “Edelweiss.” But the tears made it difficult to do so.
The renovated sound system also greatly enhanced the production, with every actor miked and former problems with echo and reverberation eliminated. Thanks to teachers Kip Chatterson, Denny Barberio, and the student sound crew for this upgrade—and to principal Darah Bonham and Assistant Principal Tim Driver for their support of Western drama. It is a blessing to have this caliber of artistic offering right here in our own home town!
As Ms. Pitts commented in her program notes, another central theme is “having faith in each other, so that we can transcend our troubles, hatred, and the worst of human nature together.” Thank you to each and every actor, singer, orchestra, and crew member for bringing the Joy of Music and the reminder that love will always conquer hate in Crozet.