After a disappointing cancellation of “The Sound of Music” last spring due to the pandemic associated with Covid 19, Ponca Playhouse forged forward with a much anticipated production opening this week at the Poncan Theater. Performances will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, September 10-12 and next weekend September 17-19, as well as a matinee performances on both Sundays the 13th and 20th at 2:30. Tickets may be reserved at the Playhouse office in advance or available at the door with space permitting and social distancing being encouraged.
Dr. Eddie Dixon, chairman of the Fine Arts Department at Northern Oklahoma College, has once again taken the helm to direct and assemble what is said to be the largest cast in a Ponca Playhouse production. To pull off this tremendously daunting task in the midst of the problems associated with the many restrictions from the Corona virus has been an admirable undertaking. After attending the first dress rehearsal, I can say that we of those fortunate enough to be able to attend the production, are the winners and can say a big thank you to the director, cast and crew for providing us with this most wonderful, memorable and entertaining show.
“The Sound of Music” is based on the novel which is the true story by the heroine of the book, Maria von Trapp, “The Trapp Family Singers”. She tells of the experiences of the aristocratic family who were able to escape from Austria to Switzerland at the beginning of World War II when the Nazis begin to occupy their beloved country. It was made into a Broadway musical in 1959, which ran for three and a half years, and then later in 1965 into a movie which reigned as the highest grossing movie for five years.
This production features an amazing set which transforms you to Austria with a large screen picturing the majestic Alps and the splendor of the flower bedecked alpine meadows plus minimal set additions which portray the castle home and grounds as well as the Abbey. Kudos to John Kuhlman and Lottie McVay for the set design and construction and painting by Elizabeth Wood, Carli Pendleton, Kira Pendleton, Zack Zimmerman, Lauren Zimmerman, Cloey McLaughlin, Ryan Brown and Roseanne Cockriel.
Setting the most appropriate mood for the entire show, as well as accompaniment throughout and providing music before each act, was the orchestra directed by Chad Anderson. I am pleased to report that they were just at the right volume and did not over shadow the performers and were certainly the icing on the cake for the entire musicale. Participating were Connie Van Ausdall, Suzanne Sumpter, Paul Palma, Brittany Lawrence, Dineo Heilman, Jim Parham, Ryan Taylor, Brandie Choate, Rhonda Ringer-Riley, Alex Hernandez and Michael Farmer.
The story opens in the Nonnberg Abbey with a very somber chorus of nuns singing a Latin number which was perfectly in tune and well balanced in the blend. Later we were introduced to the head Mother Abbess, played by Suzi Lenhart who although stern on the outside, had a softer inside and was a wonderful friend to both those already nuns as well as the postulants. Suzi did her role with conviction and did a great job of singing the classic “Climb Every Mountain”. She was ably assisted by sisters Berthe, Margaretta and Sophia, respectively played by Carli Pendelton, Mallory Kyler and Jennifer Heitman, each of whom had smaller roles but added their own special touches of talent in acting and singing. In addition, the ensemble playing a number of roles, included Kaden Swords, Yessenia Aguilar, Jennifer Hoak, Addison Kyler, Elizabeth Coffman, Kira Pendleton, Cloey McLaughlin, Addyson Harmon, Jaclyn Heitman, Jericah Wood, Andie Wood and Jaelyn Stolhand.
Of course the main character of the musicale has to be the young postulant, Maria, perefectly cast and portrayed by Kyla Radaker-James who from the beginning stole our hearts. She appears as a very unconventional postulant who is transformed from her plain Jane wholesomeness as the familiar story unfolds. She rather unwillingly leaves the convent to become the governess for Capt. von Trapp’s seven children and with her radiant vigor and appealing personality, ends up as a much beloved wife and as a second mother. Happily and bravely she becomes just what the family needed.
Captain von Trapp, played by Playhouse veteran Chris Schlep, again is cast just right as the stern father of the family. Prior to Maria’s arrival, the newly widowed Captain was ruling his septum brood with an iron hand, commanding their attention with a whistle. His manor of rule kept the children from feeling the love that he felt underneath and his true feelings blossomed and bloomed as he was softened by falling in love with Maria. Chris had a number of times to shine with his most beautiful voice and I can’t imagine anyone else doing this role better than he did. He never disappoints.
The seven children are double cast so I will not comment on any individual one but suffice it to say, they all are scene stealers and just make the show with their performances. They not only end up being able to sing with near perfection, but they have a lot of choreography which has been mastered. They are all pivotal to the story and each adds their own special talents. They are: Liesl, Kate Branstetter and Jocelyn Kuhlmann; Friedrich, Zander Dobbs and Tryston McCarty; Louisa, Faith Ballinger and Lauren Zimmerman; Kurt, William Kiespert and Levi Dobbs; Brigitta, Emma Deming and Regan Friess; Marta, Tenley Friess and Mackenzie Kyler; and Gretel, Gracynn Smykil and Bryten Smykil.
Other characters which are very important to the story line and well played are Ryan Brown, who always does a super job and this time is no exception as he nails being Max, and his brother Blake Brown who is right on as Butler Franz. Julie Huster, as Frau Schmidt the rather staunch but efficient and opionated housekeeper who delivers in her role. The role of “the other woman” Elsa Schrader portrayed by Marybeth McCoy is one in which she not only sings and dances well, but looks attractive in her stylish clothes and is nicely paired in numbers she does with Ryan Brown as Max.
Another double cast role of Rolf is by Nathan Anderson and Landon Smykil , young suitor of Liesl, who is very likeable at first in the song “Sixteen Going On Seventeen” but unfortunately changes his loyalties and the romance is not to be. He does aide in the escape which is so important in the story line.
As previously stated, this is the largest cast ever at Ponca Playhouse so every single role cannot be elaborated on but they are all important parts and deserve being listed. They are Miranda McCarty, Jason Kiespert, Nick Kelly, Jennifer Heitman, Shandi Parent, and Sean Rethmeier.
In addition to those previously given credit, a large number of others have been instrumental in bringing this production to its fruition including John Kuhlmann, stage manager, assisted by Austin Hamman as his assistant; Choreographer, Eddie Dixon; Costume designers, Melodie Parman and Kat Long; Costumes, Melodie Parman, Kat Long, and Sam Stuart; Rehearsal pianist, Connie Van Ausdall; Prop mistress, Roseanne Cockriel; Austin Hamman, sound board operator; Austin Nephew, light board operator; Jillian Boynton, Torynn Smykil and Rachel Friess, spot lights; Tyler Coffmann and John Kuhlmann , running crew; Sean Rethhmeier, photography; and Meghann Borum, programs.
Being a former music teacher and also having visited the very spot in Austria where this story is set brought back such wonderful memories of this universally loved musicale. I knew almost every word to the songs and in my heart (but not my voice since I was dutifully masked) I sang along with them. I laughed and shed tears and was completely entertained. Even though the show is extraordinarily long, it passed by all too quickly and I hated to see it end, but rejoiced that it ended on a positive note. I feel I can safely recommend this production for this weekend and next as a must see to fit into your schedule if at all possible. It is just priceless and a credit to all who gave of their time and talents to have it to be presented by Ponca Playhouse at our own Poncan Theatre.