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Grand Rapids Civic Theatre Stages The Sound Of Music

Over half a century later, The Sound Of Music retains its charms.


"I don't want to be thought of as wholesome," Julie Andrews once said but it was too late. Mary Poppins (1964) instantly established her as a model of wholesomeness, and, a year later, The Sound of Music settled the matter once and for all. As Maria von Trapp, she played an infinitely earnest young woman: a saint, really, minus the miracles and the dying.

Over half a century later and despite uncounted stagings, the role remains hers, which makes Alyssa Bauer's performance in Grand Rapids Civic Theatre's production (which runs through December 19th) all the more remarkable. Bauer wears the weight of expectations lightly, giving us her own Maria von Trapp without resorting to impression or, worse, renunciation.

The show opens with "Preludium," a hymn as lovely as mercy itself, sung by wimpled nuns. My wife later declared them best part of the show, but she's biased toward choral music, modest clothing, and seclusion. (Fearing that I would lose her to a cloister, I've since glued her shoes to the floor). We are introduced to Maria, a flibbertigibbet, a will-o'-the-wisp, a clown. Soon, she finds herself governess to the Von Trapp family.

In caring for the children, she sings "My Favorite Things" and "Do-Re-Mi," songs so embedded into our DNA that you know them even if you've never seen The Sound of Music. My own children, Gemma (8) and Heidi (5) watched and listened, rapt, perhaps seeing themselves in the fine child actors and actresses who huddled for comfort against the loud storm. Bauer sang with a lovely voice and, just as important, the unselfconscious sweetness required to make the songs work.

A little darkness helps the sincerity go down. Late adolescence has its perils ("Your life, little girl, is an empty page that men will want to write on," sings Rolf (Jake Vanneuren) in "Sixteen Going On Seventeen"). And Austria in the late 1930s has its own. The growing threat of Nazism is sharply evoked; against the uncomplicated benevolence of Maria and the von Trapp family, swastikas look even uglier. The staging and set design, always strong, are particularly effective as dangers begin to coalesce.

There's no such thing as a perfect show. Maria's romance with Captain von Trapp is given short shrift; things happen so quickly that I was left dizzy. Stephen Huseby, who played the captain, brought a lovely singing voice but less actorly charisma than the role required. But I left happier than I entered, and today, when I played "Do-Re-Mi" on the computer, both girls stopped what they were doing and sang, helplessly, along.

Tickets are available at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre & School of Theatre Arts (

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