CenterStage’s Artistic Director John Leffert clearly put a lot of zeal into his production of The Sound of Music, the self-proclaimed inspiration for his career. Most of us can attest to associating this beloved musical with nostalgic memories that beckon us back to our childhood. It's a definite challenge to take on such a renowned piece of musical theater; yet, this brilliant production’s cast and team thrive under the pressure. CenterStage’s Sound of Music absolutely soars.
The instant that lead Lauren LeBlanc was introduced to the audience as CenterStage’s Maria Rainer, lying on the imagined mountainous terrain, whimsically kicking her feet in the air, I knew this production was going to be stellar. The juxtaposition of Le Blanc’s joyous mischievousness unveiled behind the gravity of the nuns’ exceptional harmonies really helped set the stage. Even Ms. LeBlanc’s eyes served as vivid storytellers, tapping into an emotional reserve that rendered her an entirely genuine Maria. When wearing a habit, Ms. LeBlanc’s acting accentuates that Maria somehow looks out of place, as if the character herself is wearing a costume. I love how this Maria plays up the sass and humor. I won’t spoil it, but you will chuckle at Maria’s sewing prowess like never before.
In our interview prior to the show, Ms. LeBlanc mentioned striving to portray this ambitious role with a mix of beauty, sensitivity, strength, and assertiveness. Her devotion to representing this character with such truth enables Ms. LeBlanc to transform into Maria like a compassionate chameleon.
Bravo to Mr. Leffert on his seamless casting. Colette Delaney’s Baroness Elsa Schraeder’s voice in “No Way to Stop It” had the same refined sophistication, as breathtaking as her gorgeous jade green ball gown she wore to the Captain von Trapp’s party. The glitter and glam of these costumes offers a total wow factor. Ms. Delaney does not let any of these dresses wear her. She imparts in her character the necessary undertones of disdain that make the baroness such an entertaining character. Every exchange Ms. Delaney and Ms. LeBlanc have drips with deliciously underhanded sparring words. Maria may have origins of a kindhearted nun, but she is not afraid to say, “I’ll pray for you,” as a delightful indirect return volley of sarcasm.
Even the striking patchwork mountains act as a character, a testament to Mr. Leffert’s insightful scenic design. Paired with Theresa Bagan’s lighting design, the mountains can look as aloof and frozen as Captain von Trapp’s weathered spirit before Maria brings music and love back into his life. With Maria in front of them, however, the mauves, violets, plums, and lilacs suddenly become warm hues, entirely affecting the ambiance of the stage. The last scene with the staging, lights, mountains, and orchestra swelling is immensely evocative and charged.
It is a fantastic feeling when casting is done so well. I believe every character, and that is proof of the sheer talent on that stage. Emily Fields as the Mother Abbess knocks it out of the park with “Climb Every Mountain” and is luminous in the role. I still remember Rusty Henle’s comedic gold turn from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. His pride for his country and uncompromising convictions ring true just through his subtle mannerisms in “No Way to Stop It.” “Edelweiss” is his home run of the show, poignantly vulnerable. Olivia Passafiume as Liesl, Lauren Petrey as Brigitta, and Lexie Stites as Marta are total stars in the making. Every single person in the cast enhances the show.
Prepare to be completely transported. The inception with the nuns entering along both sides of the audience singing, “Preludium,” immediately invites you into this story in a new way. Olivia Passafiume’s Liesl and Copeland Davis’ Rolf will charm you with “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” from Zachary Boone’s choreography that bottles the romanticism of the age through their flirtatious dance. That number is a particular charmer, with physical comedy enhanced. “Do-Re-Mi” incorporates marching into the dancing in a fun way that also shows the evolution of the von Trapp children. A favorite was “The Lonely Goatherd,” full of leaping energy. Wait until you see the way the children mimic playing instruments. You will feel your heart race with anticipation as the Nazis shine flashlights into the audience.
Sadly for our fair city, this is Lauren LeBlanc’s final show here before she moves away with her family to Philadelphia for new adventures. Louisville is losing out on a meteoric star. We say goodbye, appreciating the spectacular send-off to such a talented actress. She’s leaving on a glory note.
In an exciting season where almost four shows have been sold out, The Sound of Music finishes CenterStage’s 2013-2014 run with another smash hit. The audience roared to their feet with a standing ovation. CenterStage is one of the reasons why Louisville is such a great place to live. This one is not one you should miss.
The Sound of Music will be playing May 8, 10, 12, 15, and 17 at 7:30 p.m. and May 11 and 18 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $20 in person and $18 in advance. (Hint: Mother's Day is this Sunday. Don't forget!) Call 502-238-2709 or visit www.CenterStageJCC.org to reserve those tickets before they sell out. Your mom will leave the theater with the biggest smile.
Top Photo and Second Photo: Courtesy of CenterStage