In the 1956 film version of “The Sound of Music,” Maria sings “My Favorite Things” to her underage charges during a thunderstorm, but in the play she sings it first with her Mother Abbess—and it’s so much better this way! This is how she accepts the call to leave the nunnery in search of music. Unlike in the film the song sets the tone for the rest of the musical. The rest: The young Maria Rainer (revived by Kerstin Anderson for this touring production directed by Jack O’Brien), unsure if becoming a nun is the right choice, is sent to work as a rookie governess for the von Trapp family. Amongst all the beauty of the Austrian mountainside we watch as Maria wins over the spunky seven children and their father, Captain Georg von Trapp, through her earnest good nature and with her guitar.
All of this happens within the confines of an opulent set that spreads across the stage like butter. A dark vaulted ceiling with a lantern for an abbey, melts into the bright and ornate lace walls of the von Trapp mansion. Picturesque pink, purple and green mountains remain as the backdrop until the final bow. The elaborate set is complemented by the vibrant cast.
The children, in addition to being majorly “aww”-inducing, are all captivating and impressively distinctive. Their father played by Ben Davis, while slightly dull on his own, shines when with the children or alongside Maria. Kerstin Anderson’s Maria is strong and prepossessing. When this revival first opened in Los Angeles back in the fall, Anderson was praised for her commanding youthful presence (she just finished her sophomore year at Pace University). Based on opening night here at the Hippodrome, she’s picked up fire during this tour. Even so, the nuns steal the show. They are as graceful as they are comforting. The Mother Abbess, played by Ashely Brown (on the heels of playing Mary Poppins), barely leaves a dry eye (even Anderson has to work at stifling tears) during the affecting “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s music is contagious. Each major number experiences a reprise. By the time the nuns are sending Maria and her new von Trapp family off (after her marriage to the Captain they have to flee Austria from the Nazis) with the “Final Ultimo,” and a reprise of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” we feel it in our hearts.
It was during this last moment, watching Maria ascend the mountains with the Mother Abbess and the rest of the nuns—belting out “Till you find your dream”—that I realize why this show is enduring. Instead of Austria, think of Syria and see this is a refugee story. If we can sympathize with Maria, can’t we then sympathize with the refugees of our current day?
“The Sound of Music” is currently at the Hippodrome through Dec. 13.