Review: Bethel’s production of ‘The Sound of Music’

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Full parking lots, buzzing crowds, tuning instruments. It was clear that something was happening. On Feb 13-15, Bethel College's Department of Theatre Arts brought to life the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, “The Sound of Music.” Few theatrical productions bring with them as many expectations as this one, immortalized in film by Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. But from the first solemn notes of the prelude to the stirring finale, Bethel's production vividly embodied the show’s title. Fittingly, it was musical performances which made this production a success.
...The Baroness, played by  Alison Minegar, and Captain Von Trapp, played by James Allen Bennett III, singing on the terrace.
...The Baroness, played by Alison Minegar, and Captain Von Trapp, played by James Allen Bennett III, singing on the terrace.
Sophomore Kelli Bergeson played the role of Maria, the novice nun turned governess for a family of strictly parented children. It is her determined energy drives the story and gives it life. Charming in her early shyness and naiveté and spirited in all her singing, as well as when butting heads with the stern Captain von Trapp (James Bennett), Bergeson delivered a performance which, as it must, carried the performance. Senior James Bennett who was somewhat less believable as a strict naval commander. But as Captain von Trapp softens and begins to fall for the wilful Maria, and when Bennett finally began to sing, his role seemed a much more natural fit. Of course, “The Sound of Music” would not be complete without the seven von Trapp children who bring Maria and the Captain together. Junior Taylor Atkins as Liesl and sophomore Caitlin Halstead as Louisa joined several talented children to fill up the von Trapp family. Few things can win over a crowd like cute children, and the performances in this family charmed the audience throughout the show. As Liesl, Atkins also delivered a delightful sincerity in her portrayal of young love's first flowering. Opposite freshman Kyle Busse as the messenger boy Rolf Gruber, her excitement and energy were palpable. An anchor in the production was the performance of senior Janelle Rundquist who was cast perfectly in the role of the Mother Abbess. She is something of a mentor to Maria, helping her to find the right path for her life, as embodied by the soaring notes of “Climb Every Mountain.” Both as fount of wisdom and as a powerful soprano, Rundquist seemed confident and at ease. In contrast to many of the more noble and uplifting characters in the show is the realist Max Detweiler who takes every opportunity to ensure his own well-being in the world. As a friend of Captain von Trapp, Detweiler was, in fact, played by James Bennett’s brother, freshman Johnny Bennett. Often drifting close to the line of going over the top with his character, Johnny Bennett’s enthusiasm, paired with his characters flamboyance and sarcasm managed to bring a refreshing variety to a show filled with tender and inspiring moments. Of course, there is another character looming in the background of this musical. This is Department of Theatre’s second play of the year to deal with the threat of Nazi Germany in World War II. In the fall, they staged an intense production of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” providing a glimpse into how the human spirit can endure even the greatest trials. “The Sound of Music,” is set in Austria at the time of the Anschluss, when that country was controversially annexed into Germany’s Third Reich, one of the first forewarnings of World War II. This threat comes to a head when the Nazis finally arrive, planning to force the decorated Captain von Trapp to serve in Hitler’s military. The Captain, like his new wife Maria, finds the strength to pursue the right path, escaping with his family over the Alps into Switzerland. Before the show had even begun, the stage is set with those famous hills, though not yet “alive with the sound of music.” The mountains themselves, a painted wall, appeared far too pointy for the Alps they represented and rather less friendly than the way they are described by the characters themselves. But it is no easy feat bringing geography onto a stage. Throughout the entire show, various set pieces drifted in and out, but those mountains were always visible, almost as another actor, interacting with the characters and helping to shape the play’s action. And how fitting that the orchestra was carefully concealed behind those panels, adding a whole new dimension to the idea of the hills being alive with the sound of music. The show was further held together by clear costuming. Audiences may have snickered when cast members appeared in lederhosen at a music festival. However, the costuming choices, made by senior Allison Baker, communicated clearly throughout the play. As the children shifted from stiff uniforms to fun play clothes and to warm, casual outfits, and as Maria changed from her habit and plain dresses to a wedding dress and to the gowns of a newlywed, the audience can feel the change in the characters. The most impressive feature of the show’s lighting was its ability to create a sky indoors. A cyclorama spread behind the mountains was filled with gorgeous color throughout the performance, including a sunset. Some downsides to the production included some disappointingly unimaginative choreography and a few those problems that microphones are unfortunately prone to. However, these factors were barely a distraction from the voices on stage and from the vibrant notes of the orchestra. Ultimately, it was the music itself which made “The Sound of Music” a success. In those notes, the actors and their characters came to life. And it was getting to glimpse that life which brought audiences to their feet in the Everest-Rohrer Fine Arts Center this weekend.
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