Chesapeake Music Hall's current production of The Sound of Music - a show mounted locally by Second Star theater in November and by Children's Theatre of Annapolis in December - is distinguished by strong leads, a capable children's ensemble and smooth production that enhances the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.
But the story - set in 1938 Salzburg about a free-spirited postulant from Nonnberg Abbey hired as governess to the seven children of autocratic Capt. Georg Von Trapp - gets off to a slow start.
Rather than opening with the character of the young Maria Rainer singing the title song in front of their impressive mountain backdrop, the Chesapeake Music Hall production begins inside the abbey, with nuns singing a disharmonious, somewhat wobbly "Preludium" and "Allelulia."
Key is `Do-Re-Mi'
Between this and the too-long "I Have Confidence" that follows, Maria's "Sound of Music" is buried. The show finally comes alive, however, with "Do-Re-Mi" sung after Maria has met the captain and the Von Trapp children.
What follows leaves plenty of room for the tale of Georg and Maria's romance, marriage and flight from the Nazis over the Alps to the safety of Switzerland, all accompanied by such classic songs as "Maria," "My Favorite Things," "Sixteen Going on Seventeen," "The Lonely Goatherd," "So Long, Farewell," "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" and "Edelweiss."
As Maria, Danielle Spiziri reveals one of the most pleasant, best-trained singing voices to grace the music hall, and she exudes enough vivacity, charm and budding acting skill to signal a bright future in leading roles.
This production also excels in quality performances given by the cast of Von Trapp children. Two separate casts play six of the children, including Nicole Anderson, 15, as the 13-year-old Louisa.
Two talented boys - Chris Scruggs as Fredrich and Justin Ederheimer as Kurt - know how to harmonize, act and dance skillfully.
Adorable Amanda Hastings, skilled at singing, dancing and delivering reams of dialogue, plays the youngest child, Gretl. Katherine Riddle is touching as the perceptive Brigitta, and Alexa Weigand adds grace and uncommon beauty to the role of Marta.
College freshman Nicole Allen is nearly perfect as Liesl, poised at the brink of adulthood, grappling with strange feelings and complex political problems.
Her "Sixteen Going On Seventeen" number with Ron Schronce's Rolf is one of the highlights of the evening.
Connie Bowman does wonders for her costumes as the captain's chic fiancee Elsa Schrader, and adds to the show's memorable moments when she joins Alan Hoffman's agent Max in singing "How Can Love Survive?" with Von Trapp.
The ensemble players
All of the ensemble players add zest to their roles, including the always-reliable Judy Smith in dual roles as Von Trapp's housekeeper Frau Schmidt and as Sister Johanna. Mary Armour-Kaiser contributes some much-needed comedy in the roles of Sister Berthe and as Frau Zeller.
Jason Fulmer as Von Trapp invests a high level of caring in his scenes with the children, and his warm baritone enhances the music and heightens drama - his "Edelweiss" proves to be emotionally moving.
Sherry Kay Anderson's direction is usually on the mark, as is Anita O'Connor's music direction.
Karel Richardson's set design and construction go beyond his usual excellence.
The same must be said for Garrett Hyde's lighting design, which transforms scenes before our eyes, making set changes seem effortless.
The Sound of Music continues at Chesapeake Music Hall on Busch's Frontage Road near U.S. 50 through June 29.