RALEIGH — "The Sound of Music" is never absent long from area stages, the show's boundless popularity deriving from its family-friendly script, major roles for children and, of course, the beloved movie made from it.
Thus the musical's return to N.C. Theatre after only six years is understandable, the enthusiastic crowd Saturday night proving the wisdom of the choice. NCT set a high standard with its 2003 production, but this version is equally satisfying and recommendable.
Kate Fisher quickly establishes a feisty Maria, her strong singing voice effortlessly managing the role's range. Her honest portrait of Maria's amorous and moral dilemmas is endearing. Fisher's Maria has great chemistry with Tom Galantich's Captain, their budding romance deftly limned. Galantich is not gruff or cold enough in his early scenes but is appropriately warm and courageous in the rest, aided by a pleasing singing voice in his few musical numbers.
Both Fisher and Galantich relate easily with the children, their relaxed, genuine interactions some of the show's most heartwarming moments. Much credit goes to these locally cast young actors -- Alex Bowers (Liesl), Daniel Marhelko (Friedrich), English Brewer Bernhardt (Louisa), Trey Fitts (Kurt), Roxanna Demers (Brigitta), Gabby Simone (Marta) and Mary Kate Englehardt (Gretl) -- for playing their roles without a hint of mugging or self-consciousness.
The Mother Abbess can almost overshadow the other roles when taken by a consummate professional, as here with Suzanne Ishee. Her stern but kindly characterization is capped by the evening's highlight, "Climb Every Mountain," thrillingly sung with such conviction and prowess as to obliterate memories of others in the part.
Christine Hunter is a glamorous, sophisticated Elsa, deserving praise for making the "other woman" sympathetic. Vinny Genna gives music agent Max a wily charm, while Judy Long makes housekeeper Frau Schmidt likably crusty. And the nuns chorus is simply glorious.
Director Richard Stafford provides confident staging and inventive choreography, especially for the children's numbers. Only the final tableau disappoints, needing a stronger sense of the family's brave mountain crossing (their stair-stepped "crag" doesn't help).
Otherwise, the show is immensely enhanced by Kenneth Foy's scenic design, especially the stunning mountain backdrops, given realistic glow by Craig Stelzenmuller's lighting. Alfred E. Sturgis' 24-piece orchestra brings out the score's many subtleties, proving that musicals need not be blasted over the sound system. Too bad the head mikes are not more reliable (and less visible).
Those familiar only with the movie may be thrown by the differences in the show's numbers and scene sequences. They won't be helped by the printed program, which lists a version not being used here. Despite these cavils, the production will likely send you home humming and smiling.