How do you solve a problem like Bob Ivey?
As a director he's a done a fine job of attracting theatergoers to the Footlights over the past few years with shows like The Full Monty and Once Upon a Mattress. He can craft appealing dance numbers that have a grand feel even when they involve a mere handful of actors. He is also good at getting solid acting performances from inexperienced players, especially kids. The focus, though, is undoubtedly on his first love: dancing. After all, he is also artistic director of the Robert Ivey Ballet and director at the Charleston Dance Studio.
Other aspects of his shows get less attention. In The Sound of Music, it's the singing. In a show that relies so heavily on its songs, this is a hitch.
The 50-year-old musical is set in pre-WWII Salzberg, Austria. At the local abbey, postulant Maria Rainer (played by Emily Wilhoit) would rather sing and dance than behave like a boring old nun; she even dares to wear curlers under her wimple. Obviously, something has to be done about this troublemaker.
Fortunately the kind Mother Abbess (Druid Hamrick Joyner) takes pity on Maria, solving the issue (and getting some peace) by sending her to the von Trapp family. There Captain Georg von Trapp (Tony Nappo), a widower, needs help keeping his seven kids in line. Maria manages it with a guitar in her hands and a song in her heart, melting the captain's in the process.
There are flies in this ointment in the form of Nazi invaders, personified by Admiral von Schreiber (the underused David Moon) and Herr Zeller (Steven Bryant). Georg has to decide whether to cooperate with the Germans like his friend Max Detweiler (Robbie Thomas) or flee over the mountains to Switzerland.
Ivey succeeds in squeezing this epic tale into a tightly paced production that lasts just over two hours. Nothing seems rushed, the characters are fully formed, and there are many amusing moments: the stunned reactions of Maria's sisters at the abbey when she sings "My Favorite Things;" the dry humor of Georg's butler Franz (a perfectly wry David Graham); and the practiced swagger of Max, a government official who's desperate for the von Trapps to sing at the prestigious Kaltzberg Festival. There's also room for a puppy love story between Georg's eldest Liesl (a confident Sarah Callahan) and telegram boy Rolf Gruber (Kyle Kasten), who sing "Sixteen Going on Seventeen."
Wilhoit makes a great fresh-faced Maria. She's full of energy with a strong singing voice. The same cannot be said for Joyner, Nappo, Thomas, or Kasten, who all seem more comfortable acting than singing. Sometimes it's hard to hear them over Nancy Eaton Stedman's peppy three-piece band. At other times, they have trouble hitting their notes. Luckily, Rodgers and Hammerstein songs like "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" and "No Way to Stop It" are effective no matter who's singing in them, and the well-performed title song, "The Lonely Goatherd," "Do-Re-Mi" and "Edelweiss" (the von Trapp family equivalent of "Purple Rain") are all emotionally powerful.
Georg's children run the gamut of ages, and they all give memorable and distinctive performances. Chase Saulisbury and Satya Tranfield come across as particularly sincere on stage.
Sets are suggested with a few items of furniture, a pair of impressive light-up stained glass windows, a staircase, gazebo, and Austrian flag. Scene changes are amazingly fast, a credit to the efficiency of Stage Manager Esther Lapin and her crew. A mountainous Austrian backdrop looks very wrinkly, and a couple of hills have their wood and metal struts showing, but the overall look of the show is another testament to the ingenuity of scenic designer/tech director Richard Heffner. Bruce Bryson, Sharon Willis, and June Palmer's costumes also help to enhance the show's visuals.
However, until the director pays closer attention to the singing and the blocking (some characters are occasionally hidden behind others), Ivey won't be able to create the great Broadway musical tribute that he really wants this to be.