Keeper of the Plans

Review: Here’s why ‘The Sound of Music’ is the event of the weekend in Wichita

Behind the scenes at Music Theatre Wichita

From first rehearsals to final build and opening night, MTWichita employs 300 seasonal employees to make Broadway-scale musical entertainment possible right in the heart of downtown Wichita. (Courtesy of Music Theatre Wichita / Steven C. Smith / D
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From first rehearsals to final build and opening night, MTWichita employs 300 seasonal employees to make Broadway-scale musical entertainment possible right in the heart of downtown Wichita. (Courtesy of Music Theatre Wichita / Steven C. Smith / D

I’ll admit it: Older musicals have never really been one of “my favorite things,” so to speak.

But Music Theatre Wichita converted me with Wednesday’s opening of “The Sound of Music.”

These hills are still alive. No CPR necessary.

The summer theater company opened its 2019 season on Wednesday evening with a well-polished production of “The Sound of Music,” which runs through Sunday at Century II.

The musical — on which the iconic 1965 movie starring Julia Andrews was based — is set in the few years before World War II in Austria. It follows Maria, a would-be nun who takes a job as a nanny for Capt. von Trapp’s seven children, who eventually falls in love with the family and the widowed captain.

Though slightly embellished, the musical is based on a true story.

There really was a musical von Trapp family and a Maria — and the family escaped the Nazi regime by emigrating to the United States, eventually settling in Stowe, Vt. (where descendents still run an inn and a craft brewery)

The show itself is a classic, but this MTW cast — led by the wonderful Catherine Charlebois as Maria — gets the credit for bringing it to stunning life on the Century II stage.

Charlebois (“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” “Beauty and the Beast”) returns to the Wichita stage and powers this production from start to finish. She’s easy to root for as a character, and her chemistry with the seven von Trapp kids — all locals — is spot-on.

Other standout performers include Katie Banks-Todd, who for the second summer in a row is playing a nun for MTW (last summer she played Mother Superior in “Sister Act”). As Mother Abbess, her rendition of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” to close Act 1 garnered thunderous applause, and for good reason.

Monte Riegel Wheeler is his usual hilarious self, even when playing a character who’s not very humorous (Max). Wheeler truly is a master of comedic timing.

In some productions of the musical, Capt. von Trapp can be performed so rigidly and gruff that he becomes ultimately forgettable as a character. Luckily this is not the case here, as Mike McGowan delivers a strong yet nuanced performance as the captain.

The seven von Trapp children deserve a shoutout as well.

Oftentimes when children are given parts in a stage musical, they’re bit roles that are quickly on and off stage. These kids are on stage a lot during “The Sound of Music,” and it never becomes tedious to watch. They work very well with Charlebois as Maria.

The scenery — designed by Adam Koch — is a delight to look at.

A large stained-glass lookalike set piece that premieres in the second act inspired an audible reaction from the audience when it was unveiled Wednesday — the first time I can recall scenery sparking that kind of reaction.

It’s just a shame that that particular piece is only seen for a few minutes the entire show.

I don’t know if it was just because of where I was sitting, but it also seems like Music Theatre Wichita’s sound design has taken a big leap forward since last year.

The balance between amplified vocals and the orchestra was perfect, and everyone’s singing just sounded so clear and present. Maybe it was the placement of the microphones?

Beyond all that, though, I feel one of the best barometers for a show’s success is how young audience members react to it.

I saw children on the edge of their seats in Act 1, leaning forward to get a better view of the on-stage action.

If there ever was a musical just perfectly square in Music Theatre Wichita’s wheelhouse, “The Sound of Music” would be it.

The show was a delight to watch, proving those musical ageists wrong — it’s an oldie, but this production has so much joy and spark to it that you’ll find yourself wanting to sing along by its end.

‘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. Thursday, June 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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