PLAYBILL BACKSTAGE: The Sound of Learning

News   PLAYBILL BACKSTAGE: The Sound of Learning
 
Clockwise from upper right: Tracy Allison Walsh doing homework; Ashley Rose Orr's wall; The kids: back row: Natalie Hall, Nora, Walsh, Ryan Hopkins, Lou Taylor Pucci, front row: Matthew Ballinger, Marissa Gould, Andrea Bowen and Orr; Bowen and Diane Denise Burke; Bowen and Orr.
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Photo by Photos by Starla Smith

Clockwise from upper right: Tracy Allison Walsh doing homework; Ashley Rose Orr's wall; The kids: back row: Natalie Hall, Nora, Walsh, Ryan Hopkins, Lou Taylor Pucci, front row: Matthew Ballinger, Marissa Gould, Andrea Bowen and Orr; Bowen and Diane Denise Burke; Bowen and Orr.

Starla Smith goes backstage at the Broadway revival of The Sound of Music.

You don't have to climb a mountain to attend school at the Martin Beck Theater--just what seems like several hundred stairs up to a door bearing the sign, "The Sound of Learning."

Lots of cheerful squeals and high-pitched voices greet you at the top. It's a school day for the Von Trapp acting troop from the current revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music.

A dressing room has been converted into a one-room schoolhouse for the ten young actors, ranging in age from seven to 16. Seven musical protegees and their three understudies learn on the job, sandwiching their studies between rehearsals and performances. Makeup tables have been sectioned into desk space, and in the corners of the L-shaped room, cheerful drawings cover the walls. One hand-made poster heralds the philosophy, "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

There are classes to meet each child's educational needs. Ryan Hopkins (Frederick) learns Italian with instructor Augustin Melora, while the seven year olds, Ashley Rose Orr (Gretl) and Andrea Bowen (Marta), write in their diaries. Natalie Hall (Louisa) studies her Latin phrases. Marissa Gould, an understudy, jumps up and down on the sofa, shouting "Burkie," the name she has coined for the on-location elementary teacher, Diane Denise Burke. "Burkie" overlooks this impropriety because it's Marissa's ninth birthday. The mood is festive and deliberately unstructured.

On a typical rehearsal day, the children might study 40 minutes, then file downstairs to dance the laendler. Back up the stairs they run for an hour of math, then it's downstairs again for a run-through of "Do Re Mi." Then back up to science and reading.

Naturally, flexibility is a key word here. So is enthusiasm, which is never a problem. Not only do teachers come to the students, so does the tooth fairy. Altogether the tooth toll of the young ensemble totals 47. When Andrea's loose tooth fell out during a rehearsal, the entire cast dropped to their hands and knees in search of the missing bicuspid. "We never found the tooth." Andrea laughed. "Matt tried to give me a rock, but I said that's not my tooth; it's pink. The Tooth Fairy still came. I got $2 and change. "

"I always get $6," Marissa chirped.

"One time I got $9," Natalie added.

"One time I got $12," called an unidentified voice.

"I got $6.25 because I had a nightmare, " Ashley said.

You figure this is a good time to bring out the camera. Instantly, the poses and smiles begin. These young unabashed thespians have traveled from far and near to be on Broadway, from Florida and Ohio, Westchester and West Palm Beach, St. Louis and Sarasota and just over just over the Hudson.

Andrea has already taken her Broadway bow as young Cossette in Les Miz, but Natalie is making her Broadway debut as Louisa. Lou Taylor Pucci, understudy for Kurt and Frederick, started in community theater. He first coined the phrase, "The Sound of Learning."

Ryan played Lewis in the Broadway revival of The King and I So did Matthew Ballinger, who plays Kurt in this production. "That's pronounced "Kourt," he instructs.

'My brother is 13, and my mom didn't even know he was interested in show business," Tracy Alison Walsh, who plays Brigitta, confided. "He wrote to agents from the Ross Report [an agents' newsletter for actors]. One called, and my mom answered the phone. So then we went around to tryouts. I was just along for the ride, but one agent sent me on this audition and I got the part."

Just then, Andrea makes a flying leap for your lap, quickly followed by Ashley and Marissa. Soon all the girls are cuddled on the couch to chronicle their favorite things.

"I once had a green tailed lemur monkey named Ringo," Ashley said. "He wore a diaper and jumped on the chandeliers, but he died. I miss him so much. Now I have a stuffed monkey to take his place and real dog named Christina."

Andrea's five brothers and sisters are all in show business. She has one doggie, Buffie who is part Poodle and part Schnauzer. "We're not sure which end is what. He's just mixed up," she grins.

"At first, my mother didn't want me to be in show business," Natalie explained. All the way to my first audition, she just kept saying, `No, no, no."

"No, no, no," teased Lou, reaching out to tickle her. That's all the invitation the girls need. They wrestle him to the floor.

"Places everybody," calls the stage manager. The musical herd rushes to the door. Andrea lingers, "Don't leave yet, "she cautions, "`cause we'll be back."

-- By Starla Smith

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