Sunday, 22 December 2013

We sing once more

When elder daughter was about nine or ten, I took her to a Singalong Sound of Music at the Bytowne Cinema. (I was careful to take her to a matinée -- the gay community brought a party atmosphere to the evening shows which wasn't necessarily kid-stuff.) It was quite an afternoon. There was a costume parade and contest and everyone received little kits which contained props such as a kind of confetti-cracker to shoot off during the first kiss between Maria and the Captain. (Rather orgasmic!) We were also instructed to gesture and call out for certain characters, kind of like a drinking game: barking whenever Rolf appeared, hissing the Baroness, etc.

Yet, with all the satirical fun-making, I was astonished as gradually, the gestures and sound effects were forgotten as the audience got involved in the story. It's a hokey and sentimental story, and as younger daughter has been discovering this term in a history project based on the movie, a tale that has remarkably little to do with what happened to the real Von Trapp family.

Younger daughter was given the assignment largely because her teacher knew we planned to take her to another Singalong Sound of Music -- this one with a live cast at the National Arts Centre. It was a little confusing at first. I thought there might be surtitles as at some operas, but we were evidently expected to sing along from memory -- and only at certain points, supposedly signaled by bringing up the lights on the audience, but it was a subtle difference, particularly for us. We were seated in the back row of a little island of seats directly in front of the stage.

However, this production was based more on the original 1959 Broadway production rather than the 1965 movie, although "I Have Confidence" and "Something Good", originally written for the movie, were inserted and "No Way to Stop It" and "An Ordinary Couple" from the original stage musical were omitted. We also had a very good and cohesive cast, most of them seen in the delightful Tartuffe set in Newfoundland last autumn. (I believe they're planning on keeping the company for the 2013-2014 season, which I think is an idea brought in by the latest artistic director.) In addition, there were a couple of familiar faces: Pierre Brault, a busy Ottawa-based actor who has produced successful one-man shows, including Blood on the Moon, and Katie Ryerson, whom we've seen four times in different Company of Fools productions.

Much of the saccharine of the movie was eliminated by a liberal helpings of sly humour, and the use of adult actors to play all but the two youngest of the Von Trapp children. The company doubled, tripled, and even quadrupled up on roles and the audience chortled in delight when we realized that the nuns chorusing "How do you solve a problem like Maria?" included at least three men!

The cast was universally strong (most having impressive CVs - I was particularly taken with the performance of Christine Brubaker who played Sister Bertha, Frau Schmidt and a glamourous and totally in control Baroness - and Maria was played by Eliza Jane Scott with all the passion, impulsiveness, and energy that the part requires, which Carrie Underwood, playing in a recent live broadcast of the musical on American television, didn't quite convey.

And once again, I found myself being moved by the dramatic (albeit improbable) climax of the story, feeling oddly choked up as the Captain (Dimitri Chepovetsky) implored us to join in "Edelweiss" while a Nazi in a long leather coat sat stonily right next to me. I knew damn well he was actor Eric Davis, but I felt utterly unnerved.

Need I say that younger daughter was completely enchanted?

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