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As a reviewer, I’m hard-pressed to imagine a more perfect production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music. Artistic director Anastacia Hawkins-Smith prioritizes and elegantly accomplishes an impressive vocal symphony while conveying the severity of the impending Nazi invasion. Housing the last live orchestra in Brevard County’s community theater network, the Cocoa Village Playhouse (CVP) reprises their production from 2000 which encourages us to face our fears, to sing when the spirit moves us, and to “follow every (aspirational) rainbow.”
As many readers will be aware, The Sound of Music’s 1938 Austrian plot is loosely based on a true story as published in 1949. Sheltered by angel-voiced nuns singing decadent Latin hymns, aspiring nun “Maria” finds her calling as an unlikely rebel in the developing culture of World War II. Portrayed by local voice coach Natalie McKnight Palmer, “Maria” is both humble and plucky in the adversity that finds her beloved mountain home. Palmer is an inspired choice for “Maria;” she’s clearly as adept molding musical prodigies as she is conquering the melodies epically sung by theatrical legend Julie Andrews. Her performance was outstanding; the songs are tricky because they center in the passagio, the transition between the head and chest voices. Some of her speaking vowels might be too short in places, but this works to her favor when she percussively argues with the captain.
CVP is fortunate to retain talented volunteer actors of a wide range of ages. Professional photographer Jonathan Goforth plays “Captain Georg von Trapp” with obvious affection for children and genuine skill on guitar. Larry Jones has a long history at CVP of playing bourgeois officials such as doctors and agents; in this featured role as parasitic music agent “Max Detweiler,” Jones embodies a formidable force to propel the von Trapps to stardom and immanent escape. Rising stars Jack Ginn (Rolf), Caleb Pucylowski (Friedrich), and Ethan Pucylowski (Kurt) also conquer their roles like professionals.
Matron Cathy Cassidy returns to the playhouse as “Mother Abbess”—her fans are uproariously supportive for her delivery of “Climb Every Mountain”—flanked by her vestal-daughters Jordan St. Germain, Callie Hall, and Wendy Bernier.
Wide-eyed and willowy in the villa, with a glistening soprano voice and dainty movements, leading ingenue Hannah Goodman is classically ideal as “Liesel.” Her “sisters” Sofia Bordner and Peyton Hess “flit and float” pleasantly around the stage and feisty Elizabeth Knepper-Quijano shines in her pivotal moment as matchmaker. Yet, four year-old Charlotte Ervin steals the show as “Gretl;” she’s right in step with the older kids and the few beats she does adorably miss might as well be intentional (we are likely to enjoy many roles from her in the future).
Amanda Telebrico shimmers in her role of “Baroness Elsa Schrader”: von Trapp’s entrepreneurial and glamorous love interest. We as the audience want to despise Schrader’s femme-fatale threat to Maria’s marital happiness, but Telebrico is too nuanced and savvy for that. Visually merging “Cruella da Vil” with Marilyn Monroe, she sizzles in sumptuous aspirations for von Trapp’s affections and country estate, but she also shows genuine appreciation for the children’s musicianship and concern for the family’s safety relative to the invasion. Her surprising warmth is such a departure from the film that we might momentarily wonder what happens to Schrader in Vienna afterwards (spin-off anyone?).
Known locally for their impressive set design (Daniel Allen) and multi-dimensional projections (Ian Cook), CVP’s designers erect a series of arches which universally depict the abbey’s chapel as well as the von Trapp’s formidable provincial mansion. There’s a striking marble effect on the walls and floors and the alter construction is divine. Dan Hill’s costumes deliver class distinction between the postulates’ folksy dresses and Schrader’s satin post-flapper-era ones (mega-watt jewelry and shoes beam up to the cheap seats) with wigs and makeup by Nathaniel Knepper-Quijano. Choreography (by Wendy Bernier who doubles as “Sister Berthe”) is playful and light manifested primarily by waltzers—who double as nuns and soldiers—and the children.
Tickets are available now through February 23rd with a possible extension to March 1st. For tickets, call (321) 636-5050. This review is brought to you by Kristin Springer of the Springer Music Studio.