The hills are alive with The Sound of Music, but only if those hills are the hills over at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Baltimore. The holiday season and new year are coming to life with the classical Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, a more vibrant production you will not find. Directed and Choreographed by Samn Huffer with Musical Direction by Reenie Codelka, this production is a singing sensation, a whirlwind of talented and charming children with equally well-matched adults bringing your favorite songs to vivacious life and warming your hearts with their tale for the holidays.
A more stunning set design at Toby’s Dinner theatre I have never seen than this one designed by David A. Hopkins. Employing the use of their full stage turntable, Hopkins creates a grandiose and elegant household for the von Trapp family. There is great attention to detail from the way the curtains drape over the French doors to the gleaming banisters that arch up on either flanking staircase. Hopkins puts a great deal of effort into making the household look as crisp as the Captain who runs it, and succeeds with subtle touches, like the ivy growing rampant along the porch side of the house. And Hopkins’s work with the abbey is breathtaking. Stained glass windows lit from behind with the simplistic black setup really gives the convent a pure and holy feel to it.
Costume Designer Janine Sunday has managed to bring an equally lively nature to her design work. The curtains used to then craft dresses for Maria and the children are a busy pattern with limited color range but are eye-catching nonetheless and really do flatter all those that wear them. Her models for the uniforms of The Third Reich are eerily close to historical accuracy. And when she outfits the children for the party, their snow-white party dresses and suits simply scream adorable innocence. Sunday’s masterful ability allows her to keep most of the costumes simple so that the actors shine in this very down to earth musical.
The play is set in Austria just as Germany is invading during WWII. Giving a touch of atmosphere to the production with their well-placed accents are the butler Franz (Jerry Gietka), the housekeeper Frau Schmidt (Victoria Winter), and the frightening Herr Zeller (William Emory). Compensating for the fact that the young children are unable to produce Austrian accents, these three performers add just the right level of reminder that we’re in a war-torn country. Emory’s performance is particularly frightening; he’s a terrifying and ruthless Nazi who shakes everyone to the core every time he stomps onto the stage.
Starting off in prayer in the abbey, this play is rich with nuns. At the head of their coven is The Mother Abbess (Lynn Sharp Spears) who gives us an angelic belt to reach God himself at the end of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” While the nuns are extremely reserved and very holy they are not without their amusements. Sister Berthe (Melynda Burdette) and Sister Margaretta (Jane C. Boyle) get a chance to show off their humorous side while gracefully singing “Maria,” Boyle and Burdette have lovely harmonies and make this funny little song sound graceful.
Where there is good there is also evil, and in this production it comes cleverly disguised as ‘uncle’ Max Detweiler (Alan Hoffman) and his traveling companion Elsa Schraeder (Coby Kay Callahan). Hoffman plays the slick talking man whose alliances flip-flop easily. A supposed friend to the von Trapp family we see his narcissistic charm in play for virtually every line he speaks. Callahan, on the other hand, is a much more subdued version of evil, guilty by association rather than possessing any actual ill qualities. She is saucy and refined, composed with a polish and sings with a delightfully mature voice during her duet “No Way to Stop It” with Hoffman. Together the pair slide into the von Trapp lives like slippery grease, wheedling their way out just as soon as times get tough.
Von Trapp’s children are a key element of the musical, and this cast has a stunning group of seven, practically the new age wonders of the singing world. The children (at this performance — Kyle Guindon, Lily Discepolo, Madelyn Schloss, Remy Brettell, Sadie Herman, and Lucy Herman) are marvelous when gathered together to sing with Maria. They shine like little porcelain angels during “So Long, Farewell,” adding adorable little dance steps to their goodnight routine. They carry a great strength in their voices, especially when singing together during “Do-Re-Mi” and they have pitch that is practically perfect. Keep your ears open for Kyle Guindon, playing Friedrich, the eldest son, during “So Long, Farewell,” as he belts a pristine high note melting your heart in the process.
The eldest of the von Trapp children is Liesl (Christine Nelson). With a pure voice that rings melodiously during the numbers sang with her siblings, Nelson shines in her role as love-struck teenager. Upon first meeting Maria she’s not thrilled, but turns quickly to love her, showing a slight depth to the teenager. Her voice when paired in duet against Rolf (Chris Rudy) is like a songbird finding its mate. Rudy has an equally delightful voice and when they sing together in “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” there’s the magic of young love in the air.
A more dynamic man you will not find to play Captain von Trapp than Lawrence B. Munsey. Giving the character great depth with subtle emotional shifts really brings his portrayal to the next level of professionalism. Munsey brings years of experience to the stage, which is emphasized in the gradual change of his character. Starting as the hardened Captain, emotionally tortured by the loss of his wife and slowly breaking into a warm and caring kind-hearted father and lover at the introduction of Maria (Elizabeth Rayca). His singing voice is stunning and when coupled with his emotional expression you’re left with a stage knock-out. The rich warm tones of his voice echo in the reprise of “The Sound of Music” when he finally melts into acceptance that music has come back into his home. Watching the expressions change on his face is like watching ice melt when he goes from rigid and frigid to tender and compassionate. The emotional stunner is the melancholic shift from Maria’s absence to bright and hopeful, perking up like flowers in the sun at her return.
Together Munsey and Rayca make beautiful music. Their duet “Edelweiss” is moving and brings a tear to your eye. The passion between them, though awkward and strained at first, grows deeply and turns into the purest of loves. When they finally kiss, a magic spark flies through the theatre, electrifying the audience with a magnificent passion and thunderous applause.
As for Rayca, her performance is nothing short of incredible. She embodies the lightheartedness and free-spirited nature of the postulant turned governess with ease. And her voice is sensational. She takes to the children like a duck takes to water, as if she’d always been a part of their lives, and when she sings with them, a harmonious symphony occurs. She gives one of the most captivating renditions of “My Favorite Things” (a duet shared with Lynn Sharp Spears) and is a bouncing ball of energy when it comes to “The Lonely Goatherd.” Rayca is sprightly and bubbly and never loses sight of the character’s faith in life, even as she doubts her current mission, and grows out of her simplistic naiveté and into the hearts of the von Trapp family.
A performance not to be missed by these two incredible performers; making The Sound of Music a ‘Must-See’ production this season.
Running Time: Approximately Two hours and 45 minutes, with one intermission.
The Sound of Music plays through January 27, 2013 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Baltimore located at the Best Western Travel Plaza – 5625 O’Donnell Street in Baltimore, MD. For reservations, call the box office at (410) 649-1660, or purchase them online.