One would be hard-pressed to find anyone in America who has not seen some version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The Sound of Music," the Tony Award-winning musical from 1959.Whether it was the 1965 Academy Award-winning film, one of its numerous revivals or December's Emmy-nominated live television production starring Carrie Underwood, this is a piece that resides in our collective consciousness. In Colorado Springs, it was the summer production for Opera Theatre of the Rockies only a year ago.
I have to admit that I questioned why the Central City Opera would try to breathe new life into this old war horse. They not only succeeded but also paid huge tribute to the craft and creativity of its authors. This production, in Denver's Ellie Caulkins Opera House, validated the art form in a fresh and powerful way.
Classic musicals such as "Sound of Music" are distinguished by infectious tunes, the need for glorious sets and costumes and, more often than not, characters that appear close to two dimensional on paper. It was in the latter that this production first separated itself from the ordinary.
Every performer had purpose and possibility - from the tiniest of the Austrian von Trapp children, Gretl (Lucy Crile), to the Nazi henchman Herr Zeller (Evan Bravos)".
But as they sang in the iconic "Do-Re-Mi" "let's start at the very beginning." I could never have guessed that a consummate opera performer like soprano Katherine Manley could realize the role of Maria so effortlessly. There was not the slightest bit of "classically-trained" affectation to her singing. In comparison to Jennifer DiDominici's bravura performance last year for Opera Theatre, Manley effectively focused on the indecision and anxiety of her character.
Troy Cook continued his run of outstanding performances for the company as Captain Georg von Trapp. This was a measured interpretation that captured the confusion and frailty of a complicated man. It also didn't hurt that Cook has one of the most pleasing baritone voices on the planet.
Lucy Schaufer was perfectly cast as Baroness Elsa Schraeder. She was haughty and manipulative while bringing superb vocalism to her role. As the oldest von Trapp child Leisl, Julie Tabash was delightful - both for her characterization and singing. It was also a real treat to have the superb artistry of Maria Zifchak (Mother Abbess) after her career-distinguishing performance in the company's "Dead Man Walking" in July.
But this performance also featured Robert Orth as the Austrian cultural entrepreneur Max Detweiler. The role was putty in the hands of this consummate singing actor who stole nearlyevery scene he was in. Orth also managed the single most hilarious moment of the show when he mockingly imitated the Nazi salute only to have his hand go limp as they marched away.
The great set design of James Fouchard was enhanced by superior stage craft and Nevin Steinberg's sound amplification was successful while calling very little attention to itself. Conductor Craig Kier inspired his pit orchestra and stage performers toward tight and colorful performances.
The lighting design by David Martin Jacques was a huge part of the production's success as it unobtrusively complimented the emotional beats in the music. Kudos once again to stage director Ken Cazan who scored bonus points by finding innovative ways to make the audience feel as threatened as the von Trapp family by the Nazi's domination of Austria.
Really, the highest recommendation can be given to this production with but two nit picks: The children's ensemble was ragged at times and the company's Studio and Apprentice Artists were too young to properly portray the von Trapp's neighbors in the party scene.