As someone who may or may not watch The Sound of Music's Labor Day marathon on television every year, I can personally understand feeling like this Rodgers' and Hammerstein's masterpiece is like a Whitney Houston song: practically untouchable. Savvy Artistic Director John Leffert knows this. And that is precisely why Lauren LeBlanc is starring in the lead role as Maria. Ms. LeBlanc first wowed me as Paulette the hairdresser in CenterStage's winning production of Legally Blonde. She broke the audience's heart with her moving rendition of "Hard Candy Christmas" as Amber in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. And Ms. LeBlanc infused the dramatic and powerful W;t with moving compassion as the nurse, Susie Monahan. Ever since then, I know that any role she is placed in, she dominates with total finesse and heart. I had the great opportunity to interview her.
Louisville.com: In preparing for the role of Maria, what did you discover that you weren’t expecting?
Lauren LeBlanc: Early in the process, assistant director Jeremy Moon gave me a copy of the autobiography written by Maria Von Trapp herself, the book the musical and movie were based on. In reading that and exploring this character, I was surprised at the emotional complexity of this show. I'm sure many people are like me and associate this music with their childhoods, thinking of songs like "Do Re Mi" and "My Favorite Things." But it's really a complex story with rich emotional development. These aren't just characters--they were real people who stood for something.
Lou.com: Most of us all know and love The Sound of Music. What has John Leffert done to keep this musical fresh?
LL: John Leffert knows this musical like no one else. He's helped guide me and the rest of the cast by creating very specific images with meticulous attention to detail. He's so good at reminding us that while the cast and the audience all know these songs very well, they should be new to our characters every night. That can be a hard thing to remember when you're singing such iconic music.
Lou.com: How has your experience been working with the children in this cast?
LL: These kids! They are such a gift. The kids in the show are double cast, which means instead of seven Von Trapp children, there are 14. That also means that they watch each other rehearse and take careful notes. Each cast gets half the rehearsal time I do. They are little professionals. But they also like to have fun. And they all give really good hugs! I can attest to that personally.
Lou.com: What number are you most looking forward to performing and why?
LL: When we started rehearsing, I was so nervous about "The Lonely Goatherd." It's a difficult song that doesn't give the vocalist a lot of time to breathe. But now I feel so differently about it. I have two little girls at home, and I use them as my inspiration during that song. Maria and the children are as free as they get to be in that scene. It's nothing but fun and joy and laughter and I love every minute of it.
Lou.com: What has been the greatest challenge in undertaking this role?
LL: The greatest challenge in this process has definitely been getting Maria right. She's beautiful and sensitive but also strong and assertive. She never wants to disrespect anybody, but she has a very strong will. I have studied this part every night since I was cast, and I know I will continue to study throughout the run. I have to. She's a challenge.
Lou.com: What do you hope the audience will take away from CenterStage’s production of this beloved musical?
LL: I hope they leave feeling joy. I hope they leave singing the music and smiling all the way home. I think that's what Maria would hope for, too.
Between total show-stoppers like Les Miserables and Legally Blonde, don't miss the final show of an incredible season that has brimmed with talent. Looking for a special Mother's Day gift? This gem is also the perfect present to give to your amazing mom who will sing "Do Re Mi" to your future children one day (if she doesn't already).
A special sneek preview supporting Volunteers of America will be playing tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. with a 6:30 p.m. reception before the show. Families living at the VOA Family Center will be attending free of charge. CenterStage appreciates giving back to the community whenever it can, which is one of the many reasons why it is such a fine theater establishment.
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. Moms will love you extra for it.
Top Photo: Courtesy of CenterStage's website