MANILA -- Just what makes “The Sound of Music” so timeless? What is its appeal that has seeped into pop culture through the decades delighting kids in "Sesame Street" to rocking out in Arianna Grande’s "7 Rings"?
When someone thinks of a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, one expects grandeur. One expects spectacle. This Broadway Asia production delivers just that, and much more -- sets that seem to appear out of nowhere, gorgeous costumes, and music made even more heavenly thanks to the crystal clear acoustics of the Samsung Performing Arts Theater.
But beneath all the glitz is a lot of heart. And that is why I thought that this version would make it appealing, and even relevant, to a modern audience.
I’d say it’s mostly because of the cast that updates their interpretation to make it more dynamic and relatable. Jill Christine-Wiley’s Maria has an enthusiastic fast-paced, almost millennial, way of speaking that reminded me of Kirsten Bell’s Anna in "Frozen."
Lauren Kidwell’s Mother Abbess' dynamic with Maria is more of an elder confidante rather than a stiff authority figure that gives “My Favorite Things” a lighter vibe. Though Kidwell is much younger than the usual players of this role, she does let out all the power, gravitas, and pathos in her show-stopping rendition of “Climb Every Mountain.”
Wiley’s Maria is paired with Trevor Martin’s Captain Von Trapp and the pair’s chemistry is undeniable. Martin’s affection toward Maria and the Von Trapp kids in the play is disarming and charming.
Our local Filipino actors prove that they can share the stage with foreign players. Karylle Tatlonghari disappears into Baroness Elsa that I initially thought that she was part of the traveling cast. She and constant scene partner Joshua La Force, playing a smarmy socialite Max Detweiler, make for an odd, yet entertaining pair when they share the stage.
Markki Stroem’s leading man looks and singing chops perfectly pair up with Lauren O’ Brien’s Liesl in “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” As with Tatlonghari, Stroem comfortably stands tall with the rest of the cast.
Speaking of the cast of kids, they were just adorable, each with their time to shine. Of note were the high notes belted out by Daniel Karash's Friedrich, and Lydia de Jesus channeling a know-it-all Hermione Granger for her Brigitta.
For those who only know "The Sound of Music" from the movie, the stage version is a bit different. While the movie and some other productions put the spotlight on the safe cutesy parts like the love triangle between Capt. Von Trapp. Elsa, and Maria, or the singing of the Von Trapp Children, the darker parts of World War II Austria are also on display here.
I heard about a “woke” version of the play some time ago and I was asking around if this was it. To which a prominent theater fan responded that "The Sound of Music" was always political. And in this production, the underlying nationalist and anti-fascist messages are front and center.
From Franz the Butler saying it would be better if Nazi Germany instilled discipline in Austria, to the stark contrast of the black uniforms of the Nazi SS against the pastel colored sets, to the dramatic unfurling of huge black, white and red banners with a massive swastika. Songs like “How Will Love Survive” talking about positioning for power and “No Way To Stop It” where Von Trapp and Elsa part ways because of their values were prominent in the play.
It's the little things like when Martin’s Von Trapp staggers on stage during the concert, looking back in muted disgust at the Nazi banners muttering under his breath, that the lyrics in the lullaby “Edelweiss” take on a whole new meaning at a time when neo-Nazis, populism, and fascism thought long dead are coming back to fore.
This production deserves to be seen and savored. For veteran or even jaded theatergoers, it’s a way to see Rodgers and Hammerstein in a new light and perhaps even to explore their other works. For kids and those new to theater, this just shows how live musical theater can go toe to toe and be as entertaining with the latest MCU blockbuster.
It is the same story, with the same songs and the same music. But what this Broadway Asia production has is a revitalized different spirit with the core message of love in its beating heart.
Anyone can take away something from this show. If you want to just come in and be dazzled by the sights and sounds, you’ll get that. If you want something that will make you think, you can get that. But if you want an amazing couple of hours of theater that will get your spirits soaring humming its iconic melodies, you’ll definitely get that too.
"The Sound of Music" is now on its final week at the Samsung Performing Arts Theater in Circuit, Makati.