“The Sound of Music” – The Phoenix Theatre Company

Theater Review – November 17, 2019


The Phoenix Theatre Company, Mainstage Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

“The Sound of Music” debuted in 1959 on Broadway where it became an audience success as the final Rodgers and Hammerstein musical triumph.  But the popular show never satisfied theater critics because of its sentimental treatment of the now famous story of nun-in-training Maria who morphs into a governess and finally becomes the wife and mother of widowed naval war hero Captain Georg von Trapp and his seven children.

The Captain disciplines his children like soldiers and never allows them to be happy because they remind him of his late wife.  When Maria arrives, she allows the children to be kids as she reintroduces outlawed pleasures.  Rodgers and Hammerstein sanitized the story to emphasize the tale’s saccharin sweetness and that upset critics looking for realistic characters in an honest story.  Other problems plagued the show including original star Mary Martin who was too old to essay Maria and even the show’s tuneful songs added to the story’s cloying cuteness and truth stretching.  In 1965, a gutsy movie version starred the effervescent Julie Andrews and unspoiled the story in front of stunning Austrian locales that made the film a classic.

The show saved The Phoenix Theatre Company in 1982 so to mark the troupe’s 100th anniversary the company has remounted a beautiful physical production that is exquisitely sung and generally well-acted.  Jeff Whiting’s fine production will never appease critics but it cuts through the show’s syrupy allure to create an enchanted confection.

A near perfect cast stars Trisha Ditsworth as ebullient Maria.  Ditsworth glistens lustrously as she bounds about the stage with never ending energy and spritely singing.  Like many others in the cast though, Ditsworth’s grating Austrian accent distracts and it would be better to not worry about sounding Austrian.  Amazing as The Mother Abbess is Joy Lynn Jacobs who stops the show with a stirring rendition of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”  The ensemble nuns sound wonderful and they have sly fun teasing Maria.  The seven children, who vary with each performance, were winsome opening night and never let the show’s cuteness become annoying.

There are two discordant cast members.  Especially awful is Julia Haase’s artificially cutesy Elsa, the Captain’s girlfriend who defers to Maria.  Oh, for Eleanor Parker’s sarcastically dry movie Elsa.  Mark Epperson’s Captain is lifeless as he fails initially to become the disciplinarian autocrat so when Maria turns him into a caring parent, the transformation falls flat.

While The Phoenix Theatre Company’s “The Sound of Music” can’t disguise the show’s sappy artificiality, the distinguished production is another feather in the troupe’s musical hat.  “The Sound of Music” continues through December 29.  To order tickets, contact The Phoenix Theatre Company’ box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: A