Footlight’s “The Sound of Music” is a winner

I should start this review with a confession. Up until just a few years ago, I’d never seen The Sound of Music. Sure, I was familiar with it in generalities – TSOM has a solid spot in the cultural zeitgeist – but when I first watched the film I was on pins and needles waiting to see how it all turned out. (How would they escape from that Nazi-filled singing festival?) But maybe this is a benefit, as I don’t have Julie Andrews or Christopher Plummer’s performances looming quite so large in competition with any live stage presentation. So, on Saturday night at the Michael J. Fox Theatre in Burnaby, I was able to revel in Footlight Theatre’s presentation of this beloved classic, and appreciate how Bree Grieg and Steve Maddock so expertly inhabited the main roles of Maria and Captain Von Trapp respectively. But I suspect that I’d have enjoyed them just as well even if I’d seen the film dozens of times – they, and the rest of the cast, were that good. Bree Grieg held her own effortlessly, bringing great verve, personality and humour to the iconic role of Maria, the uncertain young postulate at an Austrian convent sent to care for Captain Von Trapp’s seven children. Steve Maddock, who I was fortunate enough to appear with in Bruce, The Musical a couple of years back, was in fine form as the Captain. He certainly brings the physicality to be a commanding presence, but in addition he rounded out the role with a layer of vulnerability, so that when he finally gives in and sings, it’s moving. And of course he’s a fine singer whose trademark nuanced style was always in evidence, with “Edelweiss” a particular highlight. But the two leads were far from the only thing that was right about this show. The children were a delight, and Alyssya Swales, the tiniest cast member, had the audience wrapped around her little finger – literally at one point! – as Gretl, the littlest Von Trapp. Totally adorable – and a real pro. Grace Fatkin as the Mother Abbess not only projected great warmth and wisdom, she thrilled us with a powerful “Climb Every Mountain” that brought thunderous and well-deserved applause. And the smaller roles were also well cast, from Carolyn Bergstrand as a perfectly catty Baroness Else, rival with Maria for the Captain’s affections; to David Blue as “Uncle Max” Detweiler, who tossed off his hilarious one-liners like a British Groucho Marx; to Helen Volkow who bustled around the stage to great comic effect as the housekeeper Frau Schmidt. Well worth noting were the beautiful harmonies of the nuns’ chorus which opens both acts, and which helps bring the show to its soaring finale. This is a big show, and Footlight has given it impressive sets to match. We get the high stone arches and stained glass of the convent, the deluxe elegance and lavishness of the Von Trapp mansion… and of course, those famous hills! Also, a couple of drop-down banners and flags held on staffs were shockingly effective at transporting the audience to the Salzburg Festival under Nazi occupation. (It was almost too realistic for me – I breathed a sigh of relief when those props finally melted away!) All in all, Director/Choreographer Lalainia Lindbjerg Strelau, and the entire Footlight team, have created a “Sound of Music” that really succeeds. See it if you can!

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