(first published in the Cincinnati Enquirer Jan. 20)
Pour on the superlatives, for there is no other way to describe Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music,” which opened Friday night in Otto M. Budig Theatre at The Carnegie in Covington. (This reviewer heard the sold-out Saturday matinee.)
A co-production of The Carnegie and the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, the “lightly staged” show directed by Brian Robertson deserves the highest praise in no small part because of its economy. Members of the KSO, 13 players led by music director James R. Cassidy (discreetly conducting from the wings), occupied half of the stage, while the action played out to one side and in front. The only set piece was a broad staircase and there was little scenic design, just a backdrop, a few projections, chandeliers flown in and out, etc.
Still, the impact was enormous, with much left to the imagination -- and in fact, nothing could have been more potent, especially with the exceptional cast assembled here. Starring as Maria was Abigail Paschke, who transitioned from “flibbertigibbet” postulant to transformative governess with uncommon spark. Captain von Trapp was Jared Joplin, whose own transition from rule-bound disciplinarian to fully engaged father was heartwarming. The Mother Abbess was Maria Ventura, whose steady presence and lush voice provided the inspirational underpinning of the show.
The von Trapp children, sung by Kathryn Miller, Elijah Prather, Rachel Zimmerman, Seth Mundy, Anna Dudley, Olivia Bayer and Xela Keith-Chirch, displayed precise, agile voices and lively acting skills. Kemper Florin as Elsa Schräder, the Captain’s supposed fiancée and Michael Hall as family friend and impresario Max Detweiler were totally convincing. Maximillian Jansen as Leisel’s boyfriend-turned-Nazi, Rolf, handled his transformation with ease.
The show kept one involved from the very beginning, which contrasted the four nuns chanting a psalm in the abbey (Ventura, Autumn West, Julia Abanto-Bethune and Melanie Woodruff) followed by Maria singing “The Sound of Music” on a hillside. Highlights (too numerous to mention) included Maria and the Mother Abbess singing “My Favorite Things” – in the abbey, no less -- Maria winning over the children with “Do-Re-Mi” and Leisel (Kathryn Miller) and Rolf’s charming, choreographed “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.”
Paschke peeked cautiously under her blanket for a stray frog (possible prank by the children) before comforting them during a thunderstorm with “The Lonely Goatherd.” The audience joined in “So Long, Farewell” by waving to the children as they went up to bed before the Captain’s party. Ventura’s soaring “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” sung to the disconsolate Maria when she returns to the abbey for refuge from her feelings, brought tears to one’s eyes.
Elsa and Max’s cynical “No Way to Stop It” (referring to the Nazi takeover of Austria) and Maria’s touching “Something Good” with the Captain as they finally confess their love complemented each other beautifully.
The scene at the song festival was dramatic, with the stage bathed in red light, Nazi swastikas projected onto the curtain above the stage and the Captain singing a soulful “Edelweiss.” The finale/reprise of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” sung by the whole company as the von Trapps began their journey over the mountains into Switzerland, brought the audience helplessly to its feet.
Repeats are 7:30 p.m. Jan. 23 and 24, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25 and 3 p.m. Jan. 26 at The Carnegie in Covington. Tickets are $19-$28 at (859) 431-6216, or order online at www.thecarnegie.com or kyso.org.