It seems to me that Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music is enjoying something of a renaissance of late-based upon the six productions of the classic musical that I've seen in less than a year. Others assure me, however, that it's not necessarily a renaissance, considering that the show has never really gone away and has remained a favorite of theater audiences since its Broadway premiere in 1959.
The latest production of The Sound of Music (that will likely play to capacity audiences at the historic Franklin Theatre through June 17), however, comes from the fertile imagination of Studio Tenn artistic director Matt Logan and just may signal a creative renaissance for the show that most of us know best from the 1965 Academy Award-winning film that pops up regularly on our television sets. Logan's unique take on the time-honored musical renders it, somehow, completely fresh, giving the tale of Maria Rainer and the seven children of the imperious Captain Georg von Trapp some contemporary twists that work marvelously, intriguing audiences with creativity and theatricality.
With a cast led by Broadway veterans Jessica Grové (who ideally captures the spirit and charm of Maria in her thoroughly captivating performance) and Ben Davis (tall and commanding as the naval captain torn by conflicting loyalties and social upheaval of historic proportions), Logan presents The Sound of Music you would expect from him, although in no way can you call it predictable or expected. To the contrary, Logan excels at delivering the unexpected and while The Sound of Music is probably the one show you would expect to be played out in the traditional, often-seen manner you've encountered in numerous other productions, he manages to surprise and delight you with his vision, his concept and his daring.
Truth be told, the tale remains the same, of course, and it is that familiarity that makes the musical so accessible and so beloved by audiences the world over. Young Maria Rainer, on the path to becoming a nun, is sent by the Mother Abbess at the Nonnberg Abbey to serve as interim governess at the palatial von Trapp estate. The widowed Captain von Trapp is a stern disciplinarian, who rules his household with the resolute authority of the naval veteran he most certainly is, maintaining a cold, distant relationship with his brood of seven children. When Maria arrives, the atmosphere at the von Trapp home is markedly changed, with her effervescent spirit filling the spacious hallways and rooms.
Logan's concept for the musical somehow opens up for the audience the pastoral vistas that exist in the Austrian mountains, capturing the sense of majesty of those centuries-old mountains amid the timely and very appropriate European fascination and respect for nature in all its glories. Certainly, the play may be set in the 1930s, but in focusing on that love of nature Logan also moves the musical into the 21st century, delivering a very "green" production if you will. Maria's obvious love for those mountains is palpable, underscored by von Trapp's same feelings of the importance of home and belonging , which makes the oncoming Nazi Anschluss all the more menacing in its approach during Act One, and devastatingly impactful in the play's second act.
Logan walks a fine line-if he strayed too far in One Direction, The Sound of Music could be so much pastel-colored pablum; had he gone the other way, it could be too plodding and didactic. He is able, aided and abetted by his superb cast and the fine orchestra under the direction of Chris Rayis, to present an entertaining take on the work, while giving it a foundation of realism and some historical perspective (the chilling tableau that opens Act Two is particularly noteworthy).
Another unique attribute of this production is Logan's choice of songs for the work-with the riches afforded by both the Broadway score and its film counterpart, which included many of the same titles yet featured some others written expressly for the Robert Wise film version-the director is able to fashion a revival of the show that, quite frankly, surprises you on more than one occasion during the show's almost three hours of running time.