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'Sound of Music': The hills are alive in Northport

A new production of

A new production of "The Sound of Music" opened at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport on November 18 and runs through January 16, 2011. Here, Alison Walla plays Maria Rainer. (November 18, 2010) Credit: Bruce Gilbert

'The Sound of Music" never quite fades away. Every few years it makes a comeback somewhere. There were the London revivals in 1981 and 2006 and Broadway in 1998. And in the early '90s, the sweet-'n'-sour Rodgers and Hammerstein musical even became hip when gays, cross-dressing as nuns, turned out in droves for sing-along screenings of the 1965 film starring Julie Andrews.

Now, on the heels of a mini-buzz generated by the movie cast's reunion on "Oprah" and the "Today" show and the paperback release of the oldest von Trapp daughter's book, "Memories Before and After 'The Sound of Music,' " comes a Broadway-worthy staging at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport.

Alison Walla, who played Hodel in "Fiddler on the Roof" at the Engeman in the spring, creates a Maria who delightfully solves the problem she presents for the Mother Abbess. "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" (as the song goes).

First, you make her irresistible. That doesn't mean she's goody two-shoes. In fact, it's her realization that she'll probably sin that sends her scurrying back to the nunnery. We all know that, in this musical at least, love prevails - romantic love - and that Maria streaks straight past novitiate to wife and mother of seven. Now that's commitment!

Yet, despite the preposterous pace of her flip-flop, we buy Maria's sincerity. All because Walla sells it like sliced Wonder bread before we knew it was bad for us. From the first notes of "My Favorite Things," you'll see that her Maria is an unstoppable force who needs only to deploy her lovely self.

OK, time out for a primer. Maria has been sent by the Mother Abbess (Linda Balgord, who belts out a requisitely inspiring "Climb Ev'ry Mountain") to be governess for the brood of Capt. von Trapp, an Austrian war hero and widower. She wants Maria to experience life before committing to the habit for life. Threat of a Nazi takeover of Austria, mountains and all, looms all the while.

Maria befriends the children - one of whom is more a contemporary than a charge. That would be "16 Going on 17" Liesl (a not-so-shy Justine Re). The captain, imperious but not impenetrable as played by Rob Gallagher, displays immunity at first. He already has a remarriage prospect in Elsa (Felicia Finley), who, as refreshingly directed by Paul Stancato, is not a Nazi apologist. Like the captain's friend Max (Roger DeWitt), Elsa's just trying to survive in a shifting political landscape, while the servants (efficiently played by Joan St. Onge and Gordon Gray) take opposing sides.

The children, double cast for this two-month run, melt any resistance to the show's emotional manipulation. Jonathan Collins' granite-mimicking set puts us in a mountain-climbing mood as it frames the Alps whenever music director Mike Pettry shifts into soaring gear.

The Nazis don't stand a chance.

WHAT : 'The Sound of Music'

INFO: Music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse

WHEN | WHERE:
 3 and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, through Jan. 16, at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, 250 Main St., engemantheater.com, 631-261-2900

 

The music began long before

Many fans of "The Sound of Music" are curious about how much of it is truth and how much is poetic license. A newly released paperback (First Harper, $13.99) offers some first-person insight.

Agathe von Trapp is the oldest daughter of Capt. Georg von Trapp and his first wife, also named Agathe. For those familiar with the stage and movie musicals, we know her as Liesl. She's the girl beguiled by a slightly older boy who offers his wisdom to a mere lass of "16 Going on 17." (Scandalously, Charmian Carr, who played Liesl in the 1965 movie, says she had a crush on Christopher Plummer, who played her father, the captain.)

Now 97, Agathe von Trapp writes that her family was musically inclined long before Maria became their governess and later their new mother. (Maria had three more children with the captain, beyond his seven with the first Mrs. von Trapp.) The von Trapps enlarged their musical vocabulary under Maria's tutelage, Agathe says.

There was an escape to freedom from the Nazis, though not as dramatic as in the musical, she writes. The family lived for a time in Italy, before arriving in the United States in 1938.

As for the romance between Maria and Georg, Agathe says that mutual respect grew into love. But Maria loved the captain's children from the start.

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