Audience members laughed and smiled as if they had never before seen Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The Sound of Music" at Saturday night's Roger Rocka's Dinner Theater performance of the classic musical. Such fresh enjoyment testifies to the quality of a show so often done - one that seems to be popping up everywhere this year and next. Despite a few glitches one might expect from community theater, Roger Rocka's talented cast and crew gave a consistently strong two and a half hours of solid entertainment.
Based on a true story, the musical follows a potential nun as she leaves an abbey in Austria to become a governess for the children of a strict father who forbids music in his home. As the young governess, Maria, makes her way into the hearts of the children, the captain also opens up, and the two fall in love. But he is already engaged to a baroness, and the impending invasion of the Nazis into Austria spells future danger and current conflict in the household.
The fast pace of the Roger Rocka production hinders the leads' ability to connect with each other and with the audience, but director Dan Pessano creates enough unique and humorous moments in this version to make it stand out. The adorable Von Trapp children, who are double cast, use a quilt, doll, and stuffed animal to pantomime to a fun rendition of "The Lonely Goatherd." Steve Souza's choreography for "Do-Re-Me" has the children popping up from behind a short railing like whack-a-moles. And even the Mother Abbess has her moments as the loving leader of the local abbey. As Maria touts that she has been given permission to sing, the other nuns look at her with irritation, only to run into the Mother Abbess, who is, herself, singing "My Favorite Things."
Cynthia Rhodus, an understudy, played the role of the Mother Abbess at Saturday night's performance, but her notes were full and round in the pivotal and inspirational "Climb Every Mountain." The nuns chorus provided solid vocals in the difficult "Preludium" and "Glaudeamus Domino." The children, too, successfully pulled off the tight harmonies so many productions have a difficult time creating.
Hanna Nielson had a beautiful voice and a youthful spirit as the nun turned governess, Maria Rainer. Her facial expressions and gorgeous vocals carried much of the production. Eric Estep stars opposite Nielson as the widowed captain, Georg von Trapp. Estep's acting remains static throughout, providing neither the extreme strict nature nor the emotional conviction of the character. But Estep had his few moments that truly touched the heart as his character reached out to the children and realized his mistakes. Estep also provided a beautiful voice for the memorable "Edelweiss."
Heather Price and Gordon Moore provided extra elements of humor as the Baroness Elsa Schraeder and Max Detweiler, the captain's sidekicks of a sort. Price is lovely in voice and appearance, and Moore has the comedic mannerisms of a young William Shatner. The two treated the audience to the lesser done "How Can Love Survive" and "No Way to Stop It," songs that give the debutant Elsa more of a human side and provide Max all the more opportunity to show off his fun personality.
A simple terrace set with side panels used for the countryside and abbey served the production well, although Maria's bedroom, home to one scene only, seemed a bit out of the 70s with its orange and pink colors and its psychedelic flower patterns - a look not befitting the mansion of a rich captain. Although one must admit, that flower pattern looked awfully cute on the Von Trapp children. The costumes are perfection in this fun, albeit fast paced, production of "The Sound of Music."
With a delicious dinner (and plenty of add ons available for a price), a wonderful pre-show from the Junior Company, and a fantastic cast, Fresno is definitely alive with "The Sound of Music."
THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Through July 15
Roger Rocka's Dinner Theatre