Just to be clear, the Wick Theatre’s Grand Opening production of “The Sound of Music” is not bad. In some ways, it’s more than serviceable. If some of these words sound harsh, it’s because the standards in this region can seem unattainably high for a brand-new company that is developing its voice.
This production will please most of its patrons, as it clearly did opening night, but there is little in it that is revelatory – that looks at familiar material through new eyes. It’s a stately and polished, yet conservative and conventional, rendition; the few chances it does take are largely successful, but they’re anomalous to the whole.
Everybody knows the story, so I’ll just launch into the nitpicking. This isn’t Krista Severeid’s first time playing Maria Rainer, but she’s nonetheless miscast. She’s an awfully young Maria, and during most of the production, she walks a tightrope between the puckish free-spiritedness of her character and an inappropriate childlike naivety. It’s a performance that can come across as juvenile as the children’s, and when she shares an intimate chat with Liesl in the second act, it plays like a couple of classmates gossiping about boys.
As Captain von Trapp, Tony Lawson is a solid presence, but his stentorian oration occasionally lapses into stiltedness; like many actors playing this part, it’s hard for him to transcend such a militaristic archetype. By the time Jeffrey Bruce shows up as the ostentatious culture czar Max Detweiler, the scenery can consider itself chewed, but in this case, it isn’t a bad thing. Perhaps it needed some chewing to lift the production’s pulse a little bit.
A lot of these flaws trace back to Michael Ursua’s direction, which accounts for the safe and by-the-book musical staging, along with a general tendency toward underplaying (except in Bruce’s case) that manifests in passion-starved performances. When Lawson utters his most heartbreaking line in the book, “You were right, I don’t know my children,” it is offered almost as a meek aside while he fingers a guitar, stripping this pivotal moment of its emotional resonance. When Severeid sings “The hills are alive with the sound of music,” she’s not belting her heart out in an irrepressible desire to break free of the abbey; it’s more like she’s objectively assessing a landscape.
“Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” on the other hand, sung by Lourelene Snedeker as the Mother Abbess, is exceptional, hitting those heavenly high notes with grace and power; Snedeker is the highlight of this production, and she justifiably received the loudest applause on opening night.
I also admired Ursua’s decision to present Elsa Schraeder (Mia Matthews) not as a one-note, unlikable caricature of bourgeois entitlement, as other productions have. He worked with Matthews to craft such a mature and touching performance that it makes the captain’s drift toward his spunky governess seem almost tragic. Praise should also be reserved for Katie Hensley as Liesl, who leads her band of younger siblings like a good general, bringing a confidence and naturalism that not all of the child actors can match. The scene where she refuses to engage with Maria’s singing lesson while silently pantomiming the governess’ hand gestures from her isolated corner of the porch, is a triumphant touch.
“The Sound of Music” leaves us with a strong climax, as Ursua uses the aisles and stairs of the Wick to double as the “mountain” its characters climb to safety; it’s one of those clever chances that really works. Tom Shorrock’s lighting design is both shadowy and colorful, capturing transitions from day to evening to night with ease, and helping to bring the best out of Tom Hansen’s handsome, 3D set design, which includes the captain’s ornate front porch and Maria’s bedroom rolled in front of a nature backdrop and framed on either side by permanent panels of rolling hills.
In other words, there’s enough here for the average theatergoer to love this “Sound of Music,” though purists may walk away disappointed, craving that ephemeral something that lifts the production out of the ordinary.
What’s certainly not disappointing is the Wick’s gorgeous interior, retaining those glittering Caldwell chandeliers in an impeccably chic environment that includes red carpeting, a cloistered gelato bar, luxurious Broadway attire from Marilynn Wick’s Costume World, plaster face molds pinned to the walls (where theatergoers can guess which celebrity the mold represents) and a dining room that remained closed during most Caldwell productions. Wick knows how to throw a party: The opening night festivities offered a lovely evening of cabaret music and all manner of by-the-bite appetizers and desserts. You couldn’t take two steps without bumping shoulders with a VIP.
“The Sound of Music” runs through Oct. 20 at the Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Tickets cost $58. For information, call 561/995-2333 or visit thewick.org.