West community theatre fills the summer with 'the sound of music'

Maria (Susannah Thorngate) gives a music lesson surrounded by the von Trapp children, from left, Brigitta (Lilli Graesing), Gretl (Anna Gerke), Louis (Hannah Filter), Marta (Natalie Krogwold), Frederich (Aaron Economy), Liesl (Sarah Melcher) and Kurt (Mitchell Anderson) in a scene from West Community Theatre's "The Sound of Music."

Maria (Susannah Thorngate) gives a music lesson surrounded by the von Trapp children, from left, Brigitta (Lilli Graesing), Gretl (Anna Gerke), Louis (Hannah Filter), Marta (Natalie Krogwold), Frederich (Aaron Economy), Liesl (Sarah Melcher) and Kurt (Mitchell Anderson) in a scene from West Community Theatre's "The Sound of Music."

By MARILYN JOZWIK

Published July 16, 2018


What better way to spend a few hours on a warm summer day than in the cool confines of the beautiful New Berlin West Theatre watching the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, “The Sound of Music.”

West Community Theatre is presenting a lovely, faithful version of the show with its host of familiar, hummable tunes.

There are some fine moments here and the wonderful 28-piece orchestra, conducted by Kristin Cudzewicz, really showcases the beautiful music with a full, rich sound. Such a large orchestra including eight brass, eight woodwinds and eight strings, is quite a luxury, one not often afforded a community theater production. Judith Smith directs the show.

The orchestra, nice backdrops of stained glass for the abbey, Swiss Alps and other sites, plus a wonderful Maria in Susannah Thorngate-Rein, put the show on an overall solid footing.

Love of music

Thorngate-Rein captures the spirit of the plucky heroine, Maria Rainer, the nun wannabe who finds herself as nanny to the seven children of Captain Georg von Trapp (Bryan Madson) after the abbey’s mother superior (Suzanne Stalker) sees her flightiness and strong will are not a good fit for the convent.

The story takes place on the cusp of World War II in Salzburg, Austria, which has been annexed by Nazi Germany. The Captain is a staunch nationalist, unlike his fianceé Elsa Schrader (Betsy Katschke), a wealthy baroness, and his friend Max Detweiller (David Jirik), a music agent who pushes Georg to allow his children to perform in Austria’s largest music festival. Both Elsa and Max think Georg should just accept the new regime and not fight it as they sing, “There’s No Way to Stop It,” one of two tunes not included in the Julie Andrews-Christopher Plummer, less-political film.

 It is Maria and her love of music that bring out the von Trapp children’s talents, much to the dismay of the stern captain. But while Maria is bonding with the children, she also finds herself attracted to Georg, who summons his children by whistle, as he did his charges in the Navy. In the lovely party sequence in which the Captain dances an Austrian folk dance with Maria, it becomes apparent the two are in love.

Majestic processional

When Brigitta (Lilli Graesing) comments about Maria blushing after the dance, the latter turns her back on love and returns to the abbey. But Mother Superior, in her wisdom, sends Maria back to the family, telling her that the abbey can’t shelter her from her problems. “These walls were not built to shut out problems. You must face them,” she tells Maria.

Max (David Jirik) and Elsa (Betsy Katschke) discuss the futility of fighting the German occupation in Austria in a scene from West Community Theatre's "The Sound of Music."

Max (David Jirik) and Elsa (Betsy Katschke) discuss the futility of fighting the German occupation in Austria in a scene from West Community Theatre's "The Sound of Music."

In the play, Elsa and Georg’s split is not only due to Maria’s return, but because of their different viewpoints on the Nazi annexation. I so miss it when Elsa, played by Eleanor Parker in the film, says to Maria, “Somewhere out there is a lady who I think will never be a nun,” which doesn’t occur in the stage version.

One of the highlights of this show are the wedding preparations and processional scenes featuring the lovely-voiced nun chorus – which is pleasing throughout tClhe show – as well as the orchestra’s bold brass section adding a large dose of majesty.

A scene I had never seen before in “Sound of Music” productions is the final silhouetted tableau of the family starting off on their trek through the mountains to Switzerland and freedom from the Nazi occupation. It is a beautiful, fitting ending to the show.

Classic tunes

The show has some fine performances, including Madson’s Georg. Madson maintains a strict, brooding mood throughout and his bass voice is commanding, though it didn’t work as well in some of the tunes on opening night. He and Thorngate-Rein had some wonderful scenes together, but his steely façade could have gradually come down.

Liesl (Sarah Melcher) tries to steal a kiss from Rolf (Joseph Gall) in the "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" scene from West Community Theatre's "The Sound of Music."

Liesl (Sarah Melcher) tries to steal a kiss from Rolf (Joseph Gall) in the "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" scene from West Community Theatre's "The Sound of Music."

Thorngate-Rein slid so comfortably through her role -- standing up to the captain, confused about her feelings for him, empathetic with the children -- giving her lots of appeal. I loved how she couldn’t resist munching on a pastry in a scene with Elsa and Max and responded with her mouth full, which just added to her charm. She also had a sweet, lilting voice that effortlessly handled all her classic tunes like “Favorite Things” with Mother Superior, “Do-Re-Mi” with the children and, of course, “The Sound of Music.” Her elastic voice was on display in “The Lonely Goatherd” in which she navigated all the tricky yodeling, along with the children.

Jirik is the perfect Max, exhibiting the inflated ego and love of the good life the character enjoys when he visits Georg at his opulent home. He and Katschke work nicely together in their scenes. Katschke has the right look and demeanor for the haughty baroness, great stage presence plus fine vocals.

Kids add spunk

The children all did well, but I especially enjoyed the extra verve Hannah Filter gives her Louisa character, and Graesing’s wise Brigitta.  Anna Gerke adds an appropriate cute factor to the show as little Gretl. Joseph Gallo handles the Rolf role nicely. He and Sarah Melcher’s Liesl execute the “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” song and dance well.

On the whole, I enjoyed the show. However, it felt a tad sluggish, mostly due to slow scene changes and curtain closings as well as some scenes that could’ve quickened the pace with snappier dialogue. This might pick up in subsequent performances. The show lasted around three hours on opening night.

Costuming can be a challenge for such a large production so it’s hard to outfit every character to a T. But I had a hard time with Georg’s military attire in iconic scenes such as the ball and wedding. Just struck a discordant tone.

Nonetheless, this is an ambitious, worthwhile production that includes lots of happy area youngsters doing something fun for themselves and the community during their summer vacation.

If you go

Who: West Community Theatre

What: “The Sound of Music”

When: Through July 22

Where: West Performing Arts Center, 18695 W. Cleveland Ave., New Berlin

Tickets/Info: (262) 789-6406