SALT LAKE CITY — The Rocky Mountains are about to come “alive with the sound of music” as the national tour of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music” makes its way to the Eccles Theater Feb. 27-March 4.
But for loyal fans of the story — made popular by the 1965 film — the touring theatrical production may look a bit different.
“I think that the show has oftentimes been underestimated as a piece of sort of fluffy family entertainment, but there’s a lot going on there, and I think that’s what’s surprised people over the course of the past couple of years,” said Matt Lenz, “The Sound of Music” tour director, in an interview with the Deseret News.
The new touring production launched in 2015 under the direction of three-time Tony Award-winning director Jack O’Brien, with Lenz as associate director. The story has become loved by many, largely thanks to the film, which remains the third highest-grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation. As O’Brien and Lenz prepared to launch the national tour, however, their focus turned to the show's original Broadway production. “The Sound of Music” stage production, which was the final collaboration between noted composing duo Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, premiered on Broadway in 1959, more than five years before the film hit theaters.
“I think for most people — ourselves included — our references were mostly from the film, which was of course wonderful and is much beloved, but for the film they made some changes that soft-pedaled some things,” Lenz said. “The film was much more focused on Maria and the kids and less on the politics of the time and the more adult themes of loss and redemption and self discovery and all of those kinds of things.”
As O’Brien and Lenz studied the original book and score, they found it to be surprisingly relevant and deep.
“It really deals with all of the major themes that people are concerned with: religion, family, romance, money, politics,” Lenz said. “We really took it at face value, made sure that we really heard and understood and honored what that original book and score was saying, and in doing so, I think we brought it sort of a bit more into a relevant consciousness.”
Lauren Kidwell, who plays Mother Abbess in the touring production, said the result of the creative team’s work is a palpable energy from understanding both the context of the piece — set in 1938 Austria right before Adolf Hitler came to power — and the humanity of the characters.
“These were real people in a real time period,” Kidwell said. “This is all a true story, or at least based on it, and we really wanted to focus in on those things.”
She said the energy and focus also revitalized its now-familiar musical score.
“You hear these songs like ‘Do-Re-Mi’ and ‘The Sound of Music,’ and you think you know these lyrics and you can just kind of sit back and let these songs happen,” she said, “but the way that these songs have been given new life and been invigorated by our creative team and directing team, it feels like you’re hearing these songs for the first time. They mean so much.”
The touring production also moves a few songs around, which, in reality, is putting them back where they were in the original Broadway production, Lenz explained. For example, “My Favorite Things” in the touring show is a song between Maria and Mother Abbess, and “The Lonely Goatherd” is the song Maria sings with the von Trapp children to calm them during the thunderstorm.
In addition, the production also utilizes modern stage capabilities not available at the time the piece was written, but now make it move more "cinematically in terms of fluidity." Lenz said when Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote the musical, it was conventional to use a large drop in front for scene changes, while the actors performed a scene in front of it. Thanks to modern technology, that rigid formula is no longer necessary.
Although it may sound like quite a few changes for “Sound of Music” film purists, Lenz is quick to point out that the elements were always there to begin with.
“I never want to suggest that we changed it in any way,” he said. “We’ve just allowed it to reveal itself in a contemporary mind. It’s all there. It was all there.”
Whether audiences view the production as full of changes or full of renewed focus, Kidwell said it's the themes that make the story an enduring favorite.
“This story is about timeless values,” Kidwell said. “You can’t put a time period on love and music, and those are themes that surround this story.”
If you go …
What: "The Sound of Music" national tour
When: Feb. 27-March 4, times vary
Where: Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main
How much: $35-$110