With 20 songs, a cast of nearly 40, numerous set changes and a running time that flirts with the three-hour mark, "The Sound of Music" is by definition an extravagant play. But in order to pull it off, you need a good actress in the lead role of Maria.
On Stage Community Theatre's production of the play has a great one. Jenny Ellens, with an outstanding voice and a smile that reaches the back row, embodies the spirit of the famous musical, spreading the joy to a cast that mixes seasoned veterans and amateurs.
The play opened Thursday and continues with seven more shows through Oct. 17 at the Franklin Junior High Auditorium in Brainerd.
In World War II-era Austria, wannabe nun Maria takes over the care of the seven children of the militaristic Captain von Trapp, whose wife has died. The brood is good at marching, but they know nothing about having fun (the captain doesn't want them to get dirty). Maria, with the help of classics like "My Favorite Things," "Do-Re-Mi" and the title song, quickly impresses upon the kids that "once you know the notes to sing, you can sing anything."
Rick Cole has a challenging, dichotomous role as von Trapp. When he tells Maria, "I will leave you with my children; you are in command," one can almost imagine Darth Vader promoting an underling after choking his superior officer. He has a separate whistle blow for each kid. Yet he hates the Nazis. He's both the villain and the hero of the piece.
If you go
What: The Sound of Music
Presented by: On Stage Community Theatre
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and Oct. 16, 3 p.m. Sunday and Oct. 17
Where: Franklin Junior High Auditorium
Tickets: $8 (adults), $5 (12 and under), $10 (reserved), available at the Brainerd Community Education office, Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce and Bethany Bookstore.
Director Mike Lundin apparently cast the play with singing as his foremost concern; a wise choice. Even if the acting and dancing aren't flawless, the songs hit all the right notes. And with several of the songs performed two or three times, there are plenty of chances to win over theatergoers.
The oldest von Trapp kid, Liesl (Jessica Gazelka), and her suitor Rolf (Nathan Cousins) have good chemistry and a nice dance number. Second only to Ellens as a crowd pleaser is Charlie Johnson, who makes the selfish, raspy-voiced Max Detweiler into a welcome blast of comic relief.
The usual, talented suspects contribute to the play's look and feel. Set designer Tim "Dr. Styrofoam" Leagjeld constructed a gorgeous nighttime hillscape as the backdrop, and with relatively simple set pieces (a bedroom window, a railing along a patio), he effectively suggests each setting.
Costume designer and seamstress Polly Susens provides a colorful array of outfits, while a mini-orchestra keeps the audience entertained during the set changes, which are apparently a challenge since the Franklin auditorium lacks a backstage storage area and has only tiny side stage areas.
Still, Lundin finds daring ways to utilize the whole auditorium, especially during Act II when most of the songs are reprises and in need of spicing-up. One of the last segments gets the audience into the act.
Of course, you don't have to sing along if you don't want to. But after a couple hours of Ellens' uncompromising performance, it shouldn't be a surprise if the auditorium -- and maybe even the hills -- comes alive with the sound of music.
JOHN HANSEN, staff writer, can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5863.
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