Style’s newest theatre critic, Rich Griset, weighed in on “Kitchen Witches” a few days ago. It’s not in the print edition so you might have missed it.
No one from Style has weighed in on “The Sound of Music” yet. I couldn’t have written one for print, for obvious reasons. But I can expound here so I might as well.
Even three weeks into the run, there continues to be things that impress me about this production. Technically, it is a real knock-out. Brian Barker’s set is among the best I’ve seen at Theatre IV. And I have to give an extra dose of credit to the scenic artists who worked on this production (Julie Gallager, Ann Minerick and Terrie Powers). The Austrian landscape they have created on stage is awe-inspiring. Every time I see the show, I find myself looking into the mountains as if the light might have changed or new crags or treelines emerged. It really seems like a living thing, assisted in no small measure by the lighting Lynn Hartman has engineered.
I don’t know where to start with the cast (I know what you’re thinking, the very beginning, right?) I guess I’ll get this out of the way before I go any further: I’m fairly convinced now that Ali Thibodeau can do no wrong on stage. She is an enchanting Leisl and one of the late-in-the-show highlights for me is her duet with Maria on the “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” reprise. Two wonderful voices that blend and complement each other extremely well.
Susan Sanford and Michael Hawke have the difficult task of performing the two songs in the show that will not be familiar to most audience members. I don’t think Chase could have picked a better pair. Not only do they both bubble over with personality, they have the technical skills to render these songs in such an engaging manner that even the more tongue-twisting aspects (“Mer-ced-eses!”) are clear.
I like the Elsa / George plotline trajectory in the stage version better than in the movie. It’s a little trite to simply have a girl-on-girl fight for George’s heart. The political subplot becomes a more living and affecting aspect of the story by having it disrupt the engagement.
In the same category of things that are different about the play, I’d have to put Jody Ashworth’s portrayal of Captain von Trapp. Christopher Plummer’s performance in the movie had a singular charm but there is a humanity in Mr. Ashworth’s portrayal that breathes new life into the story. I particularly like his work in the key scene when Maria and George have returned from their honeymoon and immediately are confronted by the Nazi presence. George is alternately elated to be home, furious and heartbroken about the Anschluss, and confused about how best to protect his family. Jody takes us through each of those emotions clearly.
And Stacey Cabaj – well, she must have walked through some big angel dust storm at some point in her life because she is just illuminated with a bright, beautiful spirit. The amazing part is that really only a fraction of it comes across on stage. In person, she’s even more appealing. I have always adored Julie Andrews as Maria but there is something a little prissy or even ethereal about her performance (that gauzy movie lighting has something to do with it). If anyone could make you forget about Julie Andrews with her down-to-earth, straightforward portrayal, it’s Stacey.
Of course, the kids are cute. But they are so much more, too. The fact that as a group they nail some pretty involved little numbers every single performance is extremely impressive. Can you imagine doing what Ellie Wilson does as Gretl when you were 6? Hell, I don’t think I was tying my shoes by myself yet. The stage version gives Brigitta a more filled out character and Meghan Cordner really takes that challenge head on and succeeds every single show. Oh, and the kid that plays Kurt, well, he’s not too bad either. My favorite scene in the entire show (not just because of Kurt) may be the “Lonely Goatherd” number because it is so different from the movie and all of the kids fill it with such life and energy.
I could ramble on about this production for a long time – and I may have to augment this post at some later time to do so. In the meantime, do plan and go see it. You won’t be sorry you did. I ran into a theater friend at a matinee this week who said she felt like “scream-crying” after every musical number. That’s the kind of reaction the show is spurring. Sure, some of that is undoubtedly nostalgia because of such a well-loved show. But the production pretty much kicks butt too.