First Glimpse: New B'way Sound Of Music

Special Features   First Glimpse: New B'way Sound Of Music
Yodelay-hee-hoo! The Sound Of Music held a special press presentation this morning, Jan. 7, and Playbill On-Line was there!
Rebecca Luker, Michael Siberry and the young actors who play the von Trapp children at rehearsal for The Sound of Music
Rebecca Luker, Michael Siberry and the young actors who play the von Trapp children at rehearsal for The Sound of Music Photo by Photos by Starla Smith

Yodelay-hee-hoo! The Sound Of Music held a special press presentation this morning, Jan. 7, and Playbill On-Line was there!

Camerapeople, radio journalists and print scribes milled around the 4th floor of 890 Broadway in Manhattan, sipping coffee and other goodies, waiting for the hills to come alive with -- well, you know.

At 10:15 AM, we moved into a rehearsal room with the classic wooden floors, mirrored walls and piano. (It took some self-control for the reporters not to peek into nearby rooms where the third day of hush-hush workshops for Disney's Hunchback Of Notre Dame were being held!) In the center of the rehearsal room: a unit set, painted white, yet scuffed by countless tapping feet, topped by a chair and -- of course -- a guitar.

Producer Tom Viertel reminded the assembled this would be the first Sound of Music on Broadway since the original 1959 production (notwithstanding the Debby Boone staging a few years ago at City Opera wasn't technically Broadway) and that the show was about "how love and faith heal a family." He also introduced Anna Crouse, widow of the show's co-librettist, Russel Crouse, and Mary Rodgers, daughter of composer Richard Rodgers.

Then director Susan Schulman took center stage to begin the presentation. First up: "The Lonely Goatherd," featuring Rebecca Luker's Maria, Michael Siberry's Captain Georg von Trapp and Sara Zelle's Liesl, alongside a parade of adorable von Trapp children on the "yodelay-hee-hos." Dress was casual, though the kids were neatly groomed. Luker wore a green and dark blue sweater and looked freshly-scrubbed with her blonde hair pulled back and her bright smile beaming. After this song-and-dance treat came "No Way To Stop It," a less-familiar number (cut from the film) wherein Elsa and Max (Jan Maxwell and Fred Applegate) try to convince the anti-Nazi von Trapp that looking out for number one is more important than political causes or moral high-grounds. "You Are Sixteen" followed, a gently romantic ditty and dance for Liesl and Rolf (Sara Zelle and Dashiell Eaves). Schulman noted that Michael Lichtefeld's choreography on that number used as its template an authentic Austrian courtship dance. Tallish and blonde Eaves wore a loose-fitting, dark blue t-shirt; Zelle was dressed in a crisp white top and light green skirt.

The intimate, touching love song between Maria and the Captain, "Something Good," followed. The song was interpolated into the film, with both music and lyrics by Rodgers. Mary Rodgers gave a look behind her father's words: "Daddy could be a difficult man," she said, "so that song gives some lovely insight into things he couldn't really verbalize."

Ending the presentation was "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," with the cast (including Patti Cohenour's Mother Abbess) "escaping" over the white set as the kids hummed and sang the famous hymn.

After the production numbers ended, reporters mingled with the cast and creative team, with the most frequently asked question being whether this mounting of The Sound Of Music can overcome the lingering perception that the show sugarcoats an ugly period in history. Rodgers said, "It seems to be sugary, but there are deeper levels. You get the sweetness without being inundated by it." Producer Richard Frankel told Playbill On-Line that before he got involved in the revival, "I had an impression [the show] was all sugar. But we forget the genuine emotional impact it makes." Both Frankel and Hallmark marketing senior veep Liz Shepard agreed that The Sound Of Music continued a positive trend of offering family entertainment on Broadway. Hallmark is presenting the show, as it has two other current, PG-content musicals, 1776 and The Scarlet Pimpernel. Said Frankel, "There's a lot on Broadway now to bring children to. That's the next generation of theatregoers." He also didn't leave out audiences across the country; Frankel expects Sound Of Music to tour in fall 1999.

Back in the room with the coffee and goodies, one couldn't help noticing the costume sketches posted on the walls, with designs ranging from lederhosen to elegant waist-coats. Costumer Catherine Zuber told Playbill On-Line the toughest challenge seemed to be Elsa. "The character's from a different world," Zuber said. "Everyone else is sort-of grouped together -- the children, the officers. But she's a continental woman from and sort of separate."

Zuber explained that the costuming process begins with historical research, then proverbial "drawing boards" are made with drawings and sketches. After that, inexpensive muslin versions of the costumes are made, so they're easy to change during fittings. At the same time, color swatches of fabric from the real costumes are given to the lighting designer. Only when those elements are in place can the real outfits be made."

Ironically the Sound of Music job came when Zuber was already immersed in the locale. She's on a year-and-a-half project designing 5,000 costumes for a Winegrower's Festival in Switzerland. So even though most of her work on Music will be done by the time the show begins previews Feb. 6, at least for the next few months, she'll remain an Alpine Zuber.

The Sound Of Music opens March 12 at the Martin Beck Theatre, 302 West 45th St. It's produced by the Baruch-Frankel-Viertel Group.

Also in the cast are Patricia Conolly (Frau Schmidt), John Curless (Franz), Ryan Hopkins (Friedrich), Tracy Alison Walsh (Brigitta), Matthew Ballinger (Kurt), Andrea Bowen (Marta), Ashley Rose Orr (Gretl), Jeanne Lehman, Natalie Hall (Louise), Gina Ferrall, Ann Brown, Timothy Landfield, Reno Roop, Gannon McHale, Anne Allgood, Joan Barber, Laura Benanti, Martha Hawley, Kelly Cae Hogan, Siri Howard, Tad Ingram, Matthew Loney, Betsi Morrison, Patricia Phillips, Lynn C. Pinto, Kristie Dale Sanders, Ben Scheaffer, Margaret Shafer, Nora Blackall, Marissa Gould and Lou Taylor Pucci.

Director Schulman made her Tony nominated Broadway debut with Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's Sweeney Todd at Circle in the Square. She also directed the Tony winning The Secret Garden, its two-and a-half year national tour, as well as its Australian premiere. Other credits include the York Theatre's Off-Broadway revivals of Merrily We Roll Along and Company, along with the recent Violet and the "Encores!" staged reading of The Boys From Syracuse. She was resident director for Pittsburgh's Civic Light Opera for several seasons (Follies, West Side Story, 1776, Funny Girl) Schulman graduated from the NY High School of Performing Arts, Hofstra University and the Yale School of Drama. She is executive vice president of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers.

Sets for Sound will be designed by Heidi Ettinger (Moon Over Buffalo, Smokey Joe's Cafe). Lighting is by Paul Gallo; sound by Tony Meola. Michael Lichtefeld will serve as choreographer, with Michael Rafter providing musical direction and Bruce Coughlin creating the orchestrations.

Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse wrote the libretto for 1959's Sound Of Music, based on the story of the "Trapp Family Singers" as documented by Maria Augusta Trapp. The autobiographical story told how the Trapps escaped from Austria during World War II.

The original production starred Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel. The film starred Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. Broadway last heard "Do Re Mi," "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" and "So Long, Farewell" in 1991 when Debby Boone, Laurence Guittard and Werner Klemperer starred in a revival at City Opera's New York State Theatre.

In an August 1997 Playbill On-Line story headlined "Broadway To Hear the Sound of Luker," Luker told reporter Alec Harvey of the Birmingham News in Alabama, "I'll try to make it my own," she is quoted saying of the role, "but you know, you'll always think of Julie Andrews singing those songs."

Luker, a Birmingham native, was a Best Actress Tony nominee for her Magnolia in Show Boat. She also had a featured role in the Old Globe Theatre's Time And Again in 1996. In 1989, Luker played Christine in Broadway's Phantom Of The Opera.

A source close to the production said the idea for a revival of Sound Of Music came about when Melissa Errico wowed the crowd in an Encores! staging of One Touch Of Venus. "She could basically write her own ticket at that point," the source said, "so when she said Maria was a role she really wanted to play, things fell into place. Now she's doing High Society, so she's out of the project, but the producers fell in love with the musical all over again and decided to do it anyway."

-- By David Lefkowitz and Cristine Ehren

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