“THE SOUND OF MUSIC,” through March 4, Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main St. (801-355-2787 or artsaltlake.org); running time: 2 hours 35 minutes (one intermission)
SALT LAKE CITY — Fans of “The Sound of Music” have a lot to look forward to as the national tour continues its stop at Salt Lake City’s Eccles Theater through March 4. The stage production exudes all of the charm, hits all the right notes and maintains the “stand up for what you believe in” kind of morals that audiences have come to know and love.
But there is a key factor missing from this stage production — romance — and it’s not because it’s not included in the plot.
“The Sound of Music” is based on a true story and tells of a rambunctious postulant named Maria. She is sent to be a governess to a family of seven children to determine if life at the abbey is right for her. Instead, Maria finds love, both of a motherly and a romantic nature.
The story has become popular and loved by many, largely thanks to the 1965 film, which remains the third highest-grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation, but it was a stage production before it hit the big screen. “The Sound of Music” onstage, which was the final collaboration between noted composing duo Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, premiered on Broadway in 1959, and the new touring production, which is said to return to the original book and score, launched in 2015 under the direction of three-time Tony Award-winning director Jack O’Brien.
Much of the production’s charm is anchored in the strong lead performance of Jill-Christine Wiley as Maria. Wiley seems a natural fit for the role as she wins the hearts of the von Trapp children and of the audience simultaneously. She radiates sweetness, kindness and joy, and her voice was clear and commanding throughout. A particular highlight was “Do-Re-Mi” as Wiley led the children in madrigal-type singing, all while acting with a flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants air that would befit a new governess.
Additionally, the seven von Trapp children were as adorable as one could hope for, and their skill at beautiful and challenging harmonies was beyond their years.
Another of the show's vocal highlights was Lauren Kidwell as the Mother Abbess, and her take on “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” Kidwell elevated it from merely a pretty song to a plot-driver and anchoring moment of the show.
If the film is your reference point, a few songs have been rearranged with others added or deleted. This change in score — or rather, return to the original score — strengthens the relationship between some characters while hindering others.
Instead of being a song between Maria and the von Trapp children, for example, “My Favorite Things” is between the Mother Abbess and Maria. When Maria is caught singing the song in the abbey, Mother Abbess tells her it was a song she sang as a child and asks for help remembering the words. It becomes a playful exchange as the Mother Abbess writes down the words and tries to sing them herself without looking, which shows a tenderness and friendship between the two characters.
On the other hand, the ballad “Edelweiss” is only sung once, toward the end of the show as the family performs at a concert. In the film, it's also included earlier to show the attraction between Maria and Captain von Trapp.
In general, the romance between Maria and Captain von Trapp is underdeveloped in the stage version and therefore less believable. Instead of showing a blossoming romance between the two, moments of attraction are fleetingly described through dialogue, making the marriage between the characters seem baseless and hasty.
Furthermore, Mike McLean’s stiff performance as Captain von Trapp didn’t help the already thin romantic thread. Yes, von Trapp is meant to be stern in the beginning, but McLean never sheds the rigidity, and his performance ends up coming off as flat, uncomfortable and unnatural, not to mention his weak singing — especially in portions of songs that explored the lower parts of his range — compared to the rest of the cast.
Lack of romance aside, the other elements of “The Sound of Music” tour prove to be as delightful as raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens.
Content advisory: “The Sound of Music” does not contain any objectionable content and is suitable for all audiences.