More substance lurks beneath the confection reputation of “The Sound of Music” than you might believe.
If you think the Tony Award-winning 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical is all Julie Andrews twirling rhapsodically across a flowery mountain top meadow, while seven cherub-cheeked little kids sing sweetly, well, you’re right. There definitely is all of that, though Andrews only twirled through the great outdoors in the Academy Award-winning 1965 film.
But poke a little deeper, through the pink frosting to the dense cake. There you’ll find the story of the von Trapps, a grieving family that has lost its matriarch and doesn’t know how to move forward, until Maria, a whimsical governess, arrives. She helps them heal, all while deciding whether to become a nun or not.
Set in 1938, the pressing darkness of the Nazis is woven throughout, as the regime invades the family’s Austrian homeland.
“The story is the repairing of the relationship between a father and his children,” said director Nathan Halvorson, who’s also associate director of performing arts for the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College. “Maria, in my mind is a hippie. She wants to play guitar and run through a field, and she comes in and talks to them about love and music and family.”
A preview of the musical by the Fine Arts Center Theatre Company is Thursday at the FAC. It opens Friday and runs through Jan. 12.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, their last collaboration before Hammerstein died of cancer, was based on Maria von Trapp’s 1949 memoir, “The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.” It’s filled with songs many people have surely heard, and perhaps know by heart, such as “My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi,” “The Sound of Music” and “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.”
Being a musical that was written in the ’50s, the script needed some scrubbing and updating, particularly of its misogynistic overtones, to bring it into the present day. Lauren Lukacek, a New York City-based actress who’ll star as Maria, talks about making the partnership between her character and Captain Georg von Trapp (Trevor Martin) more equal once they fall in love and decide to be together.
The fictional storyline differs from the real-life story, in that Maria didn’t marry for love. In her autobiography, she says she fell in love with the children, but when Captain von Trapp asked her to marry him, and she was undecided, the nuns advised her it was God’s will to do so.
“We’re making sure her decision in being with him is fully rooted in love for him and the children,” said Lukacek. “She loved being at the church and abbey. She wanted to be a nun. In the play, she truly falls in love with him and has to make a choice. The Mother Abbess (Sally Hybl) helps her make the right decision to follow her heart. It’s nice in 2019 for her to make her own choice and follow her own will.”
The love scene between Maria and the Captain was also reworked to make it more about her deciding her life’s fate, instead of it being pushed upon her.
“We’ve tried to make it so it’s less about Georg making a move on her, and more like her deciding together how they’re going to figure this out,” said Lukacek. “She’s not a delicate flower accepting what’s happening to her. She has agency over her future.”
Saccharine is a word that comes up frequently during rehearsals. Also, precious. Halvorson is well aware of the show’s inclination toward both, and hopes to lower the sweet factor to better relay the serious story underneath.
“People think of it as this sweet little thing, but I was so surprised by the depth of storytelling and how important and relevant the play still is,” he said. “The idea of family, especially at the holidays, is something moving to me. I know what it’s like when a family grieves, when your family needs help to repair itself, and that’s a beautiful story.”
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