Your Favorite Thing

Fans of The Sound of Music will love this Porthouse production

Like Brussels sprouts or the Pittsburgh Steelers, The Sound of Music is one of those things you love or you hate — intensely and with little middle ground.

For lovers of The Sound of Music, it's all those indelible tunes composed by Richard Rodgers and all the cute, adorable kids. For haters of "The Sound of Mucus," it's the saccharine lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and the irritating, omnipresent kids.

This production of the Broadway classic at Porthouse Theatre offers plenty for the former group to wrap their arms around. Director Terri Kent keeps the long show clipping along while milking some genuine emotion out of a couple touching scenes.

If you've been in a coma since 1959, you may not know the story of the Trapp Family Singers and the soft-focus book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse based loosely on their lives. Set in Austria before World War II, the shadow of Nazi encroachment is always present, lending a sobering counterpoint to all the fluff and nonsense.

Maria is a nun hired from the neighborhood abbey to wrangle the seven rugrats fathered by Captain von Trapp. Of course, she's not as simple as her cleverly elemental song "My Favorite Things" might indicate. And soon, she feels a love jones building between her and the Cap'n.

As Maria, Kayce Cummings starts slow, not quite finding her character's delirious mixture of innocence and passion (for her beloved Alps, for her religious calling, for bright copper kettles). But when Maria meets the von Trapps, Cummings comes into her own, giving the role a refreshing, down-to-earth spin and singing her songs with skill.

Larry Nehring, an excellent actor, adopts a ramrod posture as the Captain. But he never fully embraces the specific mannerisms of a military martinet who whistles for his brats instead of calling them by name. This gives Cummings less to play against and thereby weakens the impact at the conclusion, when they combine forces to elude the Nazis.

As for the kids — the actors, not the characters — they're a well-disciplined bunch. They rarely drift off, gaze at the audience, or smile at inappropriate times — all common mistakes for young performers. Four of them from the Nelson clan (Courtney, Cameron, Cassidy, and Carly) hold down the younger female roles, with Cameron Howell and Samuel Culver playing the two boys.

The seventh child, Liesl (Lucy Anders), develops a crush on messenger Rolf (Kyle Kemph), and their bicycle interlude during "Sixteen Going On Seventeen" is charming without being cloying.

As in the film version, two songs from the original stage show have been cut: "How Can Love Survive" and "No Way to Stop It." Those ditties, cynical and sly, could give the show much more political and psychological depth.

Without those tunes, the characters who would have sung them — family friend Max, an ambiguously fey theatrical producer, and the Captain's betrothed Elsa — are paper thin. Still, Eric van Baars crafts some welcome comedic relief as Max, and Lisa Kuhnen makes for an icy yet believable Elsa.

The show is bracketed by the appearance of a phalanx of nuns, some 20 in all, who lay down some gorgeous hymns. They are led by Marla Berg as the Mother Abbess, who ends Act One with a powerful rendition of "Climb Every Mountain."

Tellingly, on opening night during the escape scene, it was Berg who thought to subtly bend the front brim of the Captain's fedora down so he looked natty and sharp rather than like a doofus in a hat.

Attention to detail is what separates good shows from great ones, and this Sound of Music has its share of fine moments.

The Sound of Music

Through August 12 at Porthouse Theater, campus of Blossom Music Center, 1145 W. Steels Corners Road, Cuyahoga Falls, 330-929-4416.

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About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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