Sunday, November 29, 2015

Review: 'The Sound of Music'

The sound of music comes through in this "Sound of Music," but the Media Theatre's holiday show is uneven in other aspects. Inquirer theater critic Howard Shapiro reviews from Media.

Review: 'The Sound of Music'

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Elisa Matthews is Maria and Brad Little is Captain von Trapp in Media Theatre's production of "The Sound of Music."

By Howard Shapiro

A joke among diabetics is that we’re not allowed to see The Sound of Music because of all the sugar. Well, there’s plenty of the sweet stuff, but after adjusting my insulin pump at Media Theatre, something I’d forgotten hit me as the show progressed: its clear, dark side.

The Sound of Music may be tra-la-la in a way that fogs all but the most rose-colored lenses, yet it’s set in 1938 Austria, and as the plot creeps forward so does the German march on Europe. The tenor of the musical changes, at first subtly and then more so, until the ending, when it's clear that Austria will for all purposes lose its sovereignty. Patrick Ludt’s production does a nice job with the serious side; putting storm troopers in the theater’s aisles for the last few minutes strikingly makes the point.

I wish the rest of the production could be as refined — and here I’m addressing the sugar. Richard Rodgers’ music and Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics are bouncy and indelible; the title song, plus “Do-Re-Mi,” “My Favorite Things” and others work nicely with the pleasant book by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse. But the production is awkwardly static at times — off a beat, though not musically.

No choreographer is listed, and one is needed. The seven von Trapp kids, under the care of their spunky new governess, Maria (the wonderfully songbird-voiced Elisa Matthews), should have more to do as she turns them from a group of repressed automatons into a bunch of happy, musical kids. When lovely Greta Bradbury, playing Liesl, the oldest, and AJ Kiehner, as a telegraph delivery boy, break into dance in “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” it’s like an afterthought, not a reverie sparked by young love. They’re also stuck in strangely fixed stage lighting, sometimes moving in the shadows.

More’s the pity for these and other moments — at Sunday’s matinee, it was  even unclear  whether the show was over during a lapsed beat between the action and a curtain call that could have come on like gangbusters.

Many elements of the production that otherwise shine are held back by these uneven qualities. Robert J. Klimowski’s inventive set morphs impressively from convent to von Trapp mansion to concert hall, aided by rear-wall projections, and Erica Hoelscher’s costumes stand out, especially those for the kids. The children themselves (18 of them rotate performances throughout the run), as well as eight fine singing nuns and the rest of the cast, are in mighty voice — the sound of the music in this Sound of Music is the production’s most solid feature.

Brad Little (he played the title role in Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera) is Captain von Trapp, Barbara McCulloh is his initial love interest, Dan Schiff plays a hanger-on who arranges a big music competition. And watch out for a powerhouse, April Woodall, playing the mother abbess who encourages Maria to follow her heart. When she gets into “Climb Every Mountain,” you’d better start climbing, and fast.

Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727,, or #philastage on Twitter.


The Sound of Music: At Media Theatre, 104 E. State St., Media, through Jan. 15. Tickets: $54. Information: 610-891-0100 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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