Gifted cast shines in a favorite

November 08, 2001|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Filled with such "favorite things" as "girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes," Second Star's production of The Sound of Music ranks near the top of a season of terrific musicals.

And this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic remains as current as Sunday's Emmy Awards, where Barbra Streisand lifted spirits singing "You'll Never Walk Alone," against the backdrop of a World Trade Center montage.

The 1959 Broadway musical tells the story of Maria, a free-spirited nun living in 1938 Salzburg, who leaves the abbey to care for widower Georg von Trapp's seven children.

Maria brings an affectionate understanding to the children, teaching Captain von Trapp that his children cannot be treated like his crew of sailors.

The captain's fiancee discovers Maria's attachment to von Trapp before Maria does, leading her to return to the abbey, where she learns she must face her feelings. She returns to the von Trapp home, bringing music back into the children's lives and her love to Georg von Trapp.

Second Star's production has a talented cast headed by gifted actress and singer Barbara Ellis Zeller, who is almost perfect as Maria. From the moment she appears against a realistically painted backdrop of mountains, Zeller's Maria makes the hills wondrously "alive with the sound of music."

Zeller's energy defines this nun who cannot seem to adhere to the rules of convent life, making her well-suited to a lively brood of children. Zeller creates a Maria who is a joyous innocent discovering love, and her fine singing voice adds new meaning to every song.

The actors portraying the seven von Trapp children are excellent from the top, where Kathleen Scott sings and dances into our hearts as 16-year-old Liesl, to the smallest, Rachael Church as 7-year-old Gretl. Two casts of younger children alternate. These young people have obviously spent many hours in rehearsal to achieve this level of professionalism, and they should be congratulated along with director Jane B. Wingard.

Other outstanding cast members include singer-actress Kathleen Tracy, who is a wonderfully convincing mother abbess and sings a moving "Climb Every Mountain." Doug Dawson is an appealing Georg von Trapp, and Sheri Kuznicki's Elsa Schrader is properly worldly with a sharp comic touch. Also providing welcome humor is Robert Frezza as Herr Zeller, the crafty agent who manages to persuade the children to perform at a festival.

Jim Fitzmaurice delivers an outstanding performance as Rolf Gruber, singing well and dancing with extraordinary grace in "Sixteen Going on Seventeen," a show-stopping delight with Kathleen Scott's Liesl. Fitzmaurice also manages to convey an attractive masculine protectiveness toward Liesl, along with Gruber's disturbing attachment to the Nazis.

The score is well served by a spirited 19-piece orchestra in the pit, superbly conducted by Chuck Hastings. Singers are supported by Hastings' sensitive conducting, and the reprise of the tuneful score in the overture to Act II is a heart-warming delight.

This is a show that has everything, including great costumes - another area of Wingard's expertise - and remarkable lighting and sound effects created by talented Garrett R. Hyde. From realistic-looking mountains to the deluxe interiors of the abbey and elegant ballrooms and cozy bedrooms in the von Trapp home, I counted seven of the best sets I've seen anywhere. All were designed by Lynne E. Wilson and constructed by a crew of seven artists.

Those who want to revisit this perennial favorite and those who have not discovered the show should reserve seats quickly by calling 410-757-5700. The first two performances were sold out.

The Sound of Music runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. through Dec. 1 at Bowie Playhouse, on Route 3 between Route 450 and U.S. 50. To obtain information online, visit www.2ndstarproduction.com.

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