By George Basler
After more than six decades of immense popularity, The Sound of Music has earned its place in the pantheon of great Broadway musicals.
“It’s a show everyone loves,” said Patrick Foti, artistic director at the Endicott Performing Arts Center, which will stage the show Thursday through Sunday (March 30-April 2) at the Robert Eckert Theater, 102 Washington Ave., Endicott.
While that statement might be a slight exaggeration (some sour critics have labeled the show “corny” and “old-fashioned”) there is no question that The Sound of Music is a crowd pleaser embraced by generations of audiences for its memorable score and plucky heroine.
“It’s not contemporary, for sure, but I like old-fashioned,” said Foti, who is directing the show. “The music is legendary, and the show is honest and true to itself,” he said, adding that EPAC has fielded numerous requests over the years to mount a production.
The Sound of Music has a place in Broadway history as the last show by the celebrated team of Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (lyrics). Hammerstein died of cancer shortly after the New York opening.
Two other Broadway legends, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, wrote the book. It’s based (with some romanticizing) on Maria von Trapp’s memoir, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, about the singing group that gained international fame after fleeing Austria in 1938 because of the family’s opposition to Hitler and the Nazis.
The show was a major hit when it opened on Broadway in 1959 and won Mary Martin, who played Maria, the Tony Award for best actress in a musical. But what sent it into the stratosphere of popularity was the Academy Award-winning 1965 film featuring Julia Andrews as Maria.
Foti realizes that some audience members will be coming to the EPAC production with preconceived notions from the movie. “If any of our talent was lacking, I’d be concerned, but it’s not lacking,” he said.
The EPAC production lists 31 people in leading roles and the chorus. The roles of Maria and the Mother Abbess have been double cast because, Foti said, the four players were so good in their auditions that he couldn’t make a final decision.
Playing the role of Maria “is “a lot to live up to,” said Khala Hurd, who will perform Thursday and Saturday. “It’s kind of intimidating,” agreed Kristen Hudy, who is playing the role on Friday and Sunday.
The two are friends from the days when they did musical productions as children and in high school — Hurd at Union-Endicott High School and Hudy at Seton Catholic Central — but neither knew the other was auditioning for the role of Maria until the cast list was posted. Now they’re working together on their stamina and singing.
Both recognize Andrews’ performance is iconic, but they are working to put their own spin on the role. “We’re pushing each other to be better, out of our comfort zones,” Hurd said.
EPAC is striving to be faithful to the original Broadway production, which was somewhat different from the movie in terms of story machinations and order of songs. “We’re staying true to the story. It’s a great story, and a true story,” Foti said.
Other roles in the large cast are being filled by both newcomers and veterans of other EPAC Repertory Company productions. The von Trapp children are all local and have been involved, at one time or another, with EPAC’s children’s workshops, Foti said.
Jarod Hinton is playing the key role of the dour Captain von Trap,p who is transformed by the spirited Maria. Vernicia Elie and Lori Grace are sharing the role of the Mother Abbess and get the sing the show stopping “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” Lydia Thompson is playing Liesl, the oldest von Trapp child, and Dustin Hirthler plays Rolf, the delivery boy turned Hitler Youth. Michelle Thompson is the captain’s love interest (until Maria comes along, that is).
Comic relief will be provided by Leah McCoy as Sister Berthe, a straight-laced nun, and Jack Carr as Max Detweiller, a music festival organizer and slightly sleazy family friend.
The Sound of Music starts with a chorus of nuns singing liturgical music, and this is quite challenging, Foti said, especially because the chorus is a cappella. Paula Bacorn is the musical director.
“The performers love the show. Everyone comes prepared (for rehearsals), and that makes everything easier,” Foti said.
EPAC’s website calls The Sound of Music “one of the most beloved musicals of all time.” And after 60-plus years who’s to argue?
“Critics don’t always get it right,” Foti said jokingly.
IF YOU GO: The EPAC Repertory Company will present The Sound of Music March 30-April 2 at its playhouse, 102 Washington Ave., Endicott. Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m.; Sunday’s performance is at 3 p.m. Reserved seating tickets at $25 ($20 for seniors, $20 for children 12 and under) can be purchased at the EPAC website, www.endicottarts.com; at the EPAC box office, or by calling 607-785-8903.