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Do, Re, Mi at the Pops

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Dec 9, 2006 - 12:00:00 AM in reviews_2006

   Music Hall was filled with reds, greens and genes Friday night.
   The colors were the work of Stephen Beacock and Gary Kidney, whose lighting transformed the hall into a holiday paint box.
   The genes belonged to Sofia, Melanie, Amanda and Justin von Trapp, great-grandchildren of the storied Captain von Trapp, who fled Nazi-occupied Austria with his family in 1938. The von Trapps entered music history as the traveling von Trapp Family Singers and were immortalized by Rodgers and Hammerstein on Broadway and in the 1965 film starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.
   The four children, full siblings ages 12 to 18, bowed in with Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops in the first of four weekend concerts (repeats are 2 and 8 p.m. tonight, 3 p.m. Sunday at Music Hall).
   To begin with (as in "Do-Re-Mi"), the new edition von Trapps can sing. They can also act, speak, look terrific and they virtually presided over a family friendly show that drew a near capacity crowd despite the bitter weather.
   Music Hall sparkled for the occasion, with white lights and a star suspended over the orchestra, garlands lining the balconies, and Christmas trees at the opposite corners of the stage. The Pops sign glowed brightly against the ivory-colored acoustical towers, each spangled with lighted snowflakes. The towers stood against a backdrop lit by differing colors, depending on the music being performed. There were wreaths on the proscenium, pots of poinsettias lined the stage and with all the holiday sweaters in the hall, it was a warm, fuzzy environment indeed.
   The children introduced their own numbers, which included greatest hits from "The Sound of Music," carols, Broadway songs, even some rousing gospel songs. They provided commentary, too, telling stories about their famous family and describing their native Austrian garb. (The girls wore colorful dirndls handed down from their grandmother, 12-year-old Justin sported lederhosen).
   They were most captivating in their a capella numbers, where they demonstrated pristine intonation even in the closest harmony, as in the gospel hymn "Down to the River." Another was "Amazing Grace," a favorite of the Austrian president on a visit to the mother country, they said. In "Sinner Man," they became a stirring gospel quartet.
   As a foursome, they were lively - as in the novelty song "Please Don't Send Me Fruitcake" (written, apparently, by one of their cousins) - and completely disarming, as in the Austrian anthem "Edelweiss," where members of the audience could be heard humming along. They could yodel (quite well), all of them taking a turn in "The Lonely Goatherd," and give a lilt to a carol, as in their gentle tintinnabulation in "Carol of the Bells."
   Individually, there were some fine performances, Melanie's touching, pop-tinged "Mary Did You Know," and Justin's spunky "Consider Yourself" from "Oliver," where his sisters joined him in an energetic roustabout.
   Justin's spunk was matched by sister Amanda in "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better" from "Annie Get Your Gun," where he sang the highest note, but she held the longest.
   They sang an authentic "Stille Nacht" ("Silent Night") and "O Come Little Children," a carol taught them by their aunt Agatha (Leisel in the film).
   Kunzel wisely kept the Pops down so as not to cover their voices (they used mikes and there were no problems with projection) and their collaboration was warm and comfortable (Kunzel is taking them to the zoo today to meet his cheetah namesake Popsie, he said).
   Adding extra spark to the show was Broadway tap dancer Karen Callaway Williams, who made a virtuoso performance out of "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers." Her "Jingle Bell Rock" was full of verve, too, but the Pops was too loud to hear her footwork most of the time.
   Kunzel opened with a festive "Hanukkah Overture," including a lighting of menorahs by CSO staffers Sam Strater and Naimah Bilal, and a jazzy, blue-lit "Winter Wonderland," where snowflakes swirled behind the acoustical towers and giant flakes appeared in silhouette in front of the orchestra.
   The tree lights came on during "O Tanenbaum" where blues, greens and more giant flakes created a majestic tribute to the season.
   Encore was the von Trapps' trademark "exit" song, "So Long, Farewell" from "The Sound of Music."
   Admission is 25 percent off , $10 for students, for today's shortened 2 p.m. matinee.
   (first published in The Cincinnati Post Dec. 9, 2006)