It is rumored that orders for insulin skyrocketed after it became known that Marie Osmond was headlining a touring production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music.” But musical diabetics need not fear: This is a remarkably dry-eyed, road-tested, cracklingly paced production, one with enough spice to counteract the sugar.
That’s because director James Hammerstein, son of lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, has reminded the audience that “Music” is, above all, a Broadway musical — not an operetta, not a scaled-down Hollywood film, not a kiddie show. Hammerstein’s version makes it a satisfying and durable piece.
Broadway — or at least the Broadway of two generations ago — had its own distinctively tart, snappy sound, pace and feel, and Hammerstein has placed R&H’s last work squarely back in that tradition. Sentimentalists might miss the cotton candy, but they’ve been brainwashed by the mega-successful film.
The dialogue crackles along, emphasizing the book’s idiosyncratic Broadway wit with only a few stretches of operetta-like bathos, and the rapidly changing sets — adapted from a New York City Opera production — are appealingly intimate in scale.
The Von Trapp kids are cute enough, but the focus does not bear down upon them; there is more of an ensemble feel to this production. And hearing what sounds like Robert Russell Bennett’s Broadway orchestrations in the pit is a breath of fresh, bracing air.
All right, there are limits on how far you can push “The Sound of Music” into reality, but Hammerstein tries.
Rolf (Richard H. Blake), Liesl’s suitor, is clad in a simple brownshirt uniform from the beginning — the Nazis got him young — and his rendition of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” is sung to a goose-stepping rhythm, stripped of excess sentiment.
Swastikas begin to sprout in the second act and the search in the abbey toward the end has an element of real terror.
As for Osmond as Maria — well, typecasting refuses to die. Yet her Maria defies the stereotype, for she is a truly rebellious, playful spirit who looks young enough for the kids to trust her as a co-conspirator, and who matures convincingly as Captain Von Trapp’s consort.
Not only that, she sings well. Forget the misleadingly sappy posters: she is a more interesting Maria than that.
Broadway vet Laurence Guittard plays Von Trapp the martinet and Von Trapp the loving father with solid, debonair skill, but the transition between the two remains unconvincingly abrupt.
Claudia Cummings offers a rather quavery “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” on this occasion.
Jane Seaman is a breezy Elsa, and John Tillotson’s pliable Max is integrated into the flow of the play, instead of, as is often the case, standing out as the resident cynic-clown. Vanessa Dorman’s Liesl is marvelous as an awkward, excitable, moody teenager; she hits the bull’s eye.