Keeper of the Plans

Summer of Music Theatre shows starts this week. Here’s what to know about the opener

There aren’t too many musicals where the audience will come in knowing the music just as well as the cast.

“The Sound of Music” is one such musical.

Music Theatre Wichita opens its 2019 season with a production of the beloved Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, starting Wednesday evening.

And although the musical itself, at 60, is nearing retirement age, it’s one that Wichita audiences continue to ask for, according to MTW.

“If you do the old classics with integrity, you’ll find that they’re classics for a good reason,” said Wayne Bryan, MTW’s producing artistic director. “They don’t work on just one level.”

Even if you’ve never seen the musical — or the classic 1965 film — you’ve probably heard the songs.

Just try and read these without the melody line coming to mind:

“The hills are alive with the sound of music!”

“Climb ev’ry mountain, search high and low.”

“Edelweiss, Edelweiss, bless my homeland forever!”

“Doe, a deer, a female deer.”

“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens. Brown paper packages tied up with strings.”

I’ll let you fill in the rest on that one.

It’s one of just a few musicals that are so widely known that they have become fodder for “sing-along screenings” — other examples being “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “Grease” and “Mamma Mia.”

If the urge so tempts you at Music Theatre Wichita’s production, it would likely be best for you not to follow that muse.

Many people, when thinking about “The Sound of Music,” instantly think of Julie Andrews, the star of the 1965 film — and will compare any production they see against it, whether subconsciously or otherwise.

Catherine Charlebois, who is returning to Music Theatre Wichita (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”) to play the role of Maria, knows this.

It doesn’t bother her too much, though.

“In my mind at least, (Andrews) is Maria von Trapp, but you can’t think about that as an actor,” Charlebois said. “I have to continue to go back to the text and the score and just see where that lives in me. I can’t try to live up to her as a vocalist, as an actor, as anything — we’re very, very different women.”

MTW’s leads are filled out by Mike McGowan (Capt. von Trapp), Katie Banks-Todd (Mother Abbess), Jennifer Byrne (Elsa) and Monte Wheeler (Max). Well-known local actors Timothy W. Robu (Franz), Karen L. Robu (Frau Schmidt) and John Boldenow (Herr Zeller) play supporting roles.

The cast of 52 is MTW’s largest of the summer, as is the production’s 29-piece orchestra.

The actors and actresses who play the six youngest von Trapp children are all locals.

They include:

  • Noah Sickman, 13, as Friedrich.
  • Josie Anderson, 16, as Louisa.
  • Carson Kindle, 12 as Kurt.
  • Gabrielle Kanagy, 11, as Brigitta.
  • Ava Griffin, 10, as Marta.
  • Evie Griffin, 8, as Gretl.

MTW is billing its production as a hybrid of the stage musical and the film.

Theatergoers will be in for a feast for the eyes, too, as stunning Alpine vista backdrops have been freshly painted by Xuzheng He, who “pretty much came out of retirement” to paint them, Bryan said.

“With a couple assistants, it was Xuzheng here painting for six days, and they created the two Alpine vistas that are at the center of (scenic designer) Adam Koch’s designs,” Bryan said.

And just because it’s not newly written doesn’t mean there aren’t important lessons to be learned from the musical.

McGowan, who plays Capt. von Trapp in the musical, says it deals with fascism — specifically Nazism — “which resonates today, because fascism is on the rise all around the world.”

“It means a different thing today than it did 10 years ago or 20 years ago when we did the show — how do you stand up to bullies?” he said. “We can have that conversation in the show, but it’s so well-crafted that you don’t even know it’s a political conversation. But it is.”

‘The Sound of Music’

What: Classic Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein musical based on the autobiography of Maria von Trapp.

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, June 12-13; 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, June 14-15; 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, June 15-16; and 7 p.m. Sunday, June 16

Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas

Tickets: $25-70, from the Century II box office, by phone at 316-265-3107, or online at www.mtwichita.org.

More Information: Show is rated G. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes. Children must be at least 5 years old to attend.

Matt Riedl covers arts and entertainment news for the Wichita Eagle and has done so since 2015. He maintains the Keeper of the Plans blog on Facebook, dedicated to keeping Wichitans abreast of all things fun.
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