The Pinelands Thespians of Pinelands Regional High School are back. Big time! They’ll be performing “The Sound of Music” at 7 p.m. from March 3 to 5 and 10 to 12 and at 1 p.m. on March 5.
The Thespians, like everybody else, had been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Performances had to be canceled or moved online; shows with much smaller casts than normal were selected.
But now things have returned to normal – or at least the new normal – for the troupe. A two-weekend run with a cast that seems like thousands!
“I was very nervous about a two-week run,” said director Chuck Miller. After all, COVID, though in severely diminished numbers compared to January, still lurks in the background. If an outbreak were to arise within the show’s cast and crew, it could turn out to be March 2020 all over again. “But we decided ‘What the hell, let’s go back to the old days.’”
And what better way to make a comeback than with a classic? The original Broadway production, based on the true story of the Trapp Family Singers, with its beautiful Rodgers and Hammerstein score and starring Mary Martin, opened on Nov. 16, 1959. It was nominated for nine Tony Awards, winning five including Best Musical, and ran for 1,443 performances, huge numbers both back in the day. The 1965 film version, starring Julie Andrews, was the highest grossing movie of the year.
That movie isn’t often played on television these days, so although older readers are likely to be more than familiar with the show’s plot line, younger readers may not be.
Maria Rainer (Mackenzie Stephenson) is a young postulant at Austria’s Nonnberg Abbey. But she isn’t a promising postulant because she is a rather free spirit, and she misses the mountains in which she had lived as a child, The abbey’s Mother Abbess (Gianna Butcher) and Sisters Berthe, Margretta and Sophia (Summer Hudak, Sabrina Moure and Laura Leeds) wonder in song, “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” After Maria sings about “My Favorite Things,” Mother Abbess tells her she should spend some time out of the abbey to decide whether she is suited for monastic life. Maria is sent away to act as the governess to the children of Captain Georg von Trapp (Carmen Matarazzo), a widower and submarine commander in the Austro-Hungarian Navy.
When Maria arrives at von Trapp’s home, he explains her duties and, naval captain that he is, summons the children with a boatswain’s call. They march in, dressed in uniforms. There’s Liesel (Sage Targett), Friedrich (Evan Wyckoff), Louisa (Kali Tucker), Kurt (Bartholomew DiFrancia), Brigitta (Hope Shertenlieb), Marta (Summer Sprague) and Gretl (Sophia DiFrancia). Things loosen up when Maria is alone with the children, and she starts teaching them to sing – and the first three notes just happen to be “Do-Re-Mi.”
Afterward, Rolf Gruber (Andrew Watson) arrives at the von Trapp villa to deliver a telegram and meets Liesel. Sparks fly – after all, she is “Sixteen Going On Seventeen” while he’s 17 going on 18. Later in the evening, Maria sees Liesel sneaking in through a window during a thunderstorm, but agrees to keep her secret.
It definitely is a new life for Maria. An example: she’d given away all of her possessions to the poor when she entered the abbey, so the villa’s housekeeper, Frau Schmidt (Ashley Scarpone), gives her material to make new clothes.
A month later von Trapp arrives after a visit to Vienna with Baroness Elsa (Madison Romano), who wants to be his wife, and Max Detweiler (Caleb Demmerle), an entrepreneur and friend, in tow. Then Rolf enters, greeting them with a “Heil.” The captain is infuriated, saying he is Austrian, not German.
His mood doesn’t improve when Maria and the children enter, wearing play-clothes she has fashioned from the old draperies in her room. The captain immediately orders them to change. Maria tells him they need him to love them, and he angrily orders her back to the abbey. But then he hears the children singing “The Sound of Music” to welcome Baroness Elsa and decides to ask Maria to stay, thanking her for bringing music back to his home.
The Baroness is not amused, sensing a rival, but Maria explains she will be returning to the abbey in the autumn.
There’s a party for Elsa. The guests argue over the Nazi German annexation of Austria, but then Kurt asks Maria to teach him a dance. Kurt has trouble with a particular step, and von Trapp steps in to demonstrate. He and Maria dance, coming face to face, and Maria feels flushed. Afterward, Brigitta tells Maria she thinks her father and her governess are falling in love.
Elsa asks the captain to allow the children to say goodnight to the guests with a song, “So Long, Farewell.” Max is struck by their talent and wants them to sing at the famous Klatzberg Festival, which he is organizing.
Maria slips away and returns to the abbey, saying she is ready to take her monastic vows. But the Mother Abbess senses Maria is running away from her feelings for the captain and tells her to return to him.
But when she does, he announces he has asked Elsa to marry him. So things are complicated, and they become more so when the Nazis tighten their control over Austria.
Will the marriage happen, or will the captain and Maria finally admit their love? What will happen with Rolf and Liesel? Will the children perform at the festival? The captain is offered a commission in the German Navy; will he take it despite his loyalty to Austria? Is Maria destined to become a nun?
You’ll have to watch the rest of Act II to find out.
Tickets are $12 for students and seniors and $15 for adults. VIP tickets in the first five rows are $20 for all. All tickets may be purchased online at pinelandsthespians.org.
— Rick Mellerup