The hills, and the Prince Charles Theatre, will be alive with The Sound of Music next week, when Creston’s Footlighters Theatre Society and Adam Robertson Elementary School present the much-loved musical on April 7, 8 and 9.
“As a group, we do a musical every two years, and always try to pick ones that are popular,” said director Brian Lawrence. “We’d talked about it a few times, but for one reason or another, we ended up doing other shows, such as The Music Man and South Pacific.
“For me personally, The Sound of Music is the musical that got me hooked on musicals, thanks to my grandma’s influence. I recorded her soundtrack LP onto a cassette and listened to it over and over, and I watched the film many times as a kid. When Footlighters finally decided to produce it, I jumped at the chance to direct it.”
Loosely based on real-life events, The Sound of Music opened on Broadway in New York in 1959 for a run that lasted for 1,443 performances. It won a Tony Award for best musical, and its songs represent the final collaboration of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein.
The movie, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, won an Academy Award for best picture in 1965.
Filled with familiar songs, the Creston production is being produced in co-operation with Adam Robertson Elementary School.
Although the musical is set in the Austrian Alps prior to the country’s pre-Second World War invasion by Germany, Lawrence said the story remains relevant.
“The music certainly accounts for a great deal of the show’s popularity, though,” he said. “Even people who don’t have the slightest interest in musical theatre can name at least one of the songs. The main story is timeless — a man and women from different backgrounds meet and don’t get along, but eventually fall in love.”
Lawrence worked with set designer Jason Smith to create simple, practical sets to ensure the dozen set changes don’t interrupt the show’s flow. And he is especially pleased with his cast.
“The last thing I wanted is a carbon copy of the film — when actors are simply mimicking a performance, it’s difficult to learn anything new about it and make it their own. Fortunately, we have a cast that could put aside their preconceptions and memories of the film and treat the stage version as the unique piece that it is.”
The lead, Maria, is played by Simone Wiebe, who performed in several Prince Charles Secon-dary Sschool drama productions before moving on to Footlighters’ Peril on the High Seas and An Evening on Broadway.
“The role of Maria is a huge vocal workout — she sings part or all of a dozen numbers — but Simone pulls it off beautifully,” he said. “She’s managed to capture the tomboy aspect of the real-life Maria’s personality, at the same time melding that with a vulnerability that is really touching.”
Jon Smith stars as Georg Von Trapp in his first singing role on stage.
“It’s been a real treat seeing him grow as both a singer and actor in this show. The captain’s character has some of the best development in this show, covering the aloof widower, the warmhearted father and the jilted lover — and Jon pulls them all off admirably.”
Colin Hardwick plays Max Detweiler and Laura Nelson is Elsa Schraeder.
“Colin has sung with a group in both South Pacific and The Music Man. But he has major solos in two songs in The Sound of Music and I think the audience is in for a very pleasant surprise.”
As Elsa, Nelson plays her character as one with more depth than the gold-digging despiser of children she’s often seen as.
As the Mother Abbess, Lawrence said Anita Stushnoff, a longtime Creston music teacher, and director of the Blossom Valley Singers and Creston Children’s Choir, is particularly effective.
“When she auditioned, Anita sang Climb Ev’ry Mountain while accompanying herself on the piano. Those of us in the room were speechless when she finished — and we still are every time she rehearses. She brings a great dignity and wisdom to the character that really play well against Maria’s impetuous nature.”
Playing the Von Trapp children are Lenora Blackmore, Jeff Foster, Cindy Nikiforuk, Joseph Dyotte-Grant, Anjali Ewing, Erin Collison and Katie Foy.
“The children have been remarkable. They are part of over a half-dozen songs, some of which are pretty tricky, but they’ve learned them very well in a short period of time. And they have great chemistry together — they behave like actual siblings at rehearsal, and that definitely translates to their performance.
“Lenora recently won this year’s edition of Creston’s Best Singer, so I’m pretty excited to have the chance to showcase her in this. She and Shelton Bruce, who plays Rolf, do a really sweet rendition of Sixteen Going On Seventeen.”
In supporting roles, Gary Deatherage and Jo-Ann Ewing play the butler, Franz, and housekeeper, Frau Schmidt, respectively. Nuns Sophia, Berthe and Margaretta are played by Jasmine Lothien, Patricia Bartlett and Amanda Samsel. Gail Southall, Kveta Jasek, Shirley Caston, Susan Jorgensen and Shirley Cameron support a strong cast.
“I’m also pleased to see several newcomers getting involved — and some old faces returning,” the director said. “Derek Doyle is back for the first time since South Pacific in 2007, this is the second show Malcolm Ferguson has done with Footlighters, and it’s the first Footlighters show for Llana Kilpatrick and Vern Gorham.
“Of course, few of the singers could have done what they did without the help of our musical director, Geri Buchanan. She and I had been talking about The Sound of Music since she directed me in The Music Man in 2009, and we were quite eager to get to work on this show. Geri has been right beside me at every rehearsal, making sure that our vocalists are at the top of their game.”
Lawrence said he hopes audiences will enjoy experiencing The Sound of Music in a new way.
“And I really think they’ll get a kick out of seeing some of Footlighters’ regular performers doing things that really stretch their abilities and expand their range.”
Theatre fans will be pleased to know that Footlighters will return to the stage in July, with a melodrama, The Villain Wore a Dirty Shirt. In December a locally written version of Aladdin will kick off the Christmas season. Next spring, Deathtrap, Footlighters’ first-ever show, will be restaged.
Each performance of The Sound of Music begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors, and $5 for children under 12, available from Black Bear Books or at the door. At intermission, a silent auction of The Sound of Music collector’s plates will be held to benefit Footlighters and the Creston Valley Music Teachers’ Association.