Two words sum up the best reason to see “The Sound of Music” at the SCERA Showhouse in Orem: Margo Watson.
Watson’s clear, expressive voice and enthusiastic performance as Maria almost carry the show. Rare is the scene in which she appears to which she does not add radiance and charm.
Probably the show’s most sincere, touching moment comes when she and the Mother Abbess (Nannette Neubert Wiggins) discuss Maria’s love for Capt. von Trapp, culminating in the song “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” This is, alas, about the only time when the acting among the supporting cast does not seem strained and overdone.
The entire cast is blessed with fine singing voices, and the show has a great deal of singing. From the beautiful “Edelweiss” to the toe-tapping “Do-Re-Mi,” some of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s best creations live in this show. But whenever the singing stops, giving way to long stretches of dialogue, things slow down considerably. It would seem that as actors, many of these performers are really good singers.
The scene in which Capt. von Trapp (a very stiff Neil Whitaker) first introduces his seven children to their new governess, Maria, seems almost interminable. The same goes for Rolf (David Benson) and Leisl’s (Whitney Williams) scene, and practically everything with von Trapp’s dull girlfriend Elsa Schrader (Sherry Harward) and the unfunny comic relief Max Detweiler (K. Scott Harward) — that is, until the songs start. Then, the pace picks up and everyone who’s just been going through the motions — which includes nearly everyone except Watson and the kids — starts performing in earnest. Between songs, it’s as if death takes the stage. The acting is broad, and the comedy doesn’t inspire laughter.
“The Sound of Music” is from a different era of musical theater, a time when a character could say, “Let’s sing about a herd of goats!” and everyone would do it. The story and characters still work today, though, as does the wonderful musical score. But the show needs performers who can sing AND act to carry it along. Otherwise, at 2 hours and 45 minutes, you run the risk of making your audience feel like they’ve sat through a marathon.
It had been quite some time since I'd seen "The Sound of Music," and I'd never seen it live before. So I was surprised when, about 15 minutes into it, I thought: "There's too much singing in this play." I mean, it's a musical, yeah, but this one seemed TOO musical. Then I realized that whenever they weren't singing, it was deathly boring. So I began to be glad that there was so much singing. Rodgers and Hammerstein, I'm guessing, realized how dull Lindsay and Crouse's dialogue was, so they replaced as much of it as possible with songs.
"Do-Re-Mi" is one of the peppiest, fun songs in musical theater history, and I love it. One thing, though: It doesn't work. Do, Re, Mi, So and Ti all have things that go with them (a deer, a drop of golden sun, a name I call myself, etc.). But "Fa" gets "a long, long way to run," obviously making "Fa" into "Far," which is cheating. And all they could think of for "La" was "a note to follow 'So.'" There are only seven notes here, and they couldn't think of clever puns for two of them. Seems like that would be the point where you'd say, "OK, it was a nice idea, but this song just isn't going to work. Two-sevenths of the words don't fit." (Why didn't they treat "La" like "Law"? Plenty of things to say about "Law.")
Anyway, this rather dreary review of a rather dreary show (not the only bad review it got, either, by the way) inspired this e-mail:
Hi, I'm writing you in response to a couple things, and I truly don't want to make this too negative. My name is Will, and I read your Friday 25th comments about the Scera's "Sound of Music" production, and would have to highly disagree. I don't know if you have prejudgements or what, but if you want Disney, I suggest that you go to Disneyland, or you can hike over to Blockbuster, and pick up their production for just 3.50 or so. [I have no idea what he's talking about here. Not only did Disney not do the famous film version of "The Sound of Music," but I never implied the movie was better anyway (although it is).] It is "The Sound of Music" performed by a local cast, which I feel does an excellent job. It is the right of every cast member to perform his/her respective role using their own talents. I appreciate the fact that you recognized the musical talent, but you over-looked what each individual was giving to his/her character. First of all, the captain, I think, would need to be somewhat stern and "stiff", you know, to characterize an up-tight, initially hard-hearted ex-sea captain. [He reminds me of a good point that I failed to mention: Capt. von Trapp went from being a hard-nose to being a softie without any transition whatsoever. One scene he's stern, the next scene he's nice. And yet, he's still dull. A character can be stern and stiff without being flat and boring. Remember Lilith on "Cheers"?] How was Elsa "dull?" [By not being interesting. More specifically, she was bland, non-descript, and utterly without personality -- again, you can be stand-offish and still get an audience's attention.] She portrays very well the vibe of that character, which is one of a well-to-do woman who's not too concerned about other people. And, I'm sorry, but labeling Max as "unfunny" not only is an unecessary slam on him [sorry I slammed a fictional character; I'll be more polite next time, as I wouldn't want to hurt a fictional character's feelings] but is somewhat of a self-contradicton after reading your "Snide Remarks" column printed in the same day. [The column he refers to is here.] I honestly felt like I was reading my old H.S. newspaper, and, nothing you said made me chuckle, especially that thing about those dates on watches. No, I'm not "so dumb" that I can't tell time, but do get very busy and lose track of what day it is, and a quick glance can be helpful, especially when filling out forms. [What forms are you filling out that want to know what day of the week it is? The date, sure, but the specific day of the week? These are some thorough forms this man is dealing with!]
Anyway, back to the play. I thought that Rolf and Liesl's scene were great, entertaining, and if everything seemed to drag on so long I think that YOU were the one looking at your watch every five minutes. [Surely no one agreed with me, because I was wrong. Why was I wrong? Because I disagreed with this guy.] You are right; the play is long, and some scenes do seem drawn out, but that's the play, man! I mean what else could you want from a love scene or an argument between Von Trapp and his friends about the Nazi invasion. Roger and Hamerstein wrote the dialog as well, so if any criticism should be made it should be channeled in their direction. [Actually, Lindsay and Crouse wrote the dialogue. Rodgers (or "Roger") and Hammerstein just wrote the songs.]
I'm not writing you this simply to tick you off. I'm really not that kind of person, but it just seems to me that you come across far too negative and were critical of too much. I guess that's the purpose of writing this. I can be critical, too, if I look hard enough. Anyway, I appreciate your efforts to contribute to society through your writing, but in the future, if you've already made a decision in your mind and you're going to "critique" something, just think about Blockbuster, and I think you'll find that you'd not only get the experience that you wanted but you'd also save 6.50.
For some reason this gentleman took it into his head that I had decided beforehand that I wouldn't like the show. I have no idea why he thinks this. Perhaps it is just another example of people grasping at reasons to explain why I gave a show a negative review. It's never just because I thought it was bad; it's always because I was in a bad mood, or I don't like the show, or I'm the devil, or whatever.
Bear in mind also that this show was double- and in some cases triple-cast. There's no way of telling whether the performers this fellow saw were the same ones I saw. Maybe on a different night, with a different cast, the show was better. I doubt it was worse, anyway.
And then there was this e-mail, which I'm not sure is entirely serious, but I think it is:
Dear Eric D. Snider,On March 4, The Daily Herald printed this letter to the editor, which contains the word "appalled":
I am sorry to inform you that I completely disagree with your article on the "Sound of Music". The "stiff" Neil Whitaker is extremely good at Capt. Von Trapp. I am very upset about that comment about him because we have a relation between us. I also think that the other actors are very good too. Of course it is long. It's like the movie. It's a play! Sorry if I have given a negative opinion but, that's what I think.
I have not read enough theater reviews of Eric D. Snider to judge him or his work. However, I was appalled to read his review of "The Sound of Music" being played at the SCERA Theater. The last sentence of his article states, "the show needs performers who can sing and act to carry it along." [The original version had one more sentence, of course; for space purposes, it was omitted from publication. Note also, though, that I actually wrote, "The show needs performers who can sing AND act," with emphasis on the "and" -- suggesting, as I had said all along, that the performers sang very well, but they needed to be able to act, too. This is important, as we shall soon see.] Eric, get a life!
The cast of "The Sound of Music" are ordinary people who spent countless hours practicing their parts in hope of bringing a little enjoyment into people's lives. [Ah, if only they had succeeded.] Paid professionals, however, should be criticized for a poor performance. Our local talent deserves better than the trash you wrote about them. [Our local audiences deserve better for their $10 than the trash that was being performed for them.] Your review was a spineless display of writing, worthy of print only in supermarket tabloids or the sewers. [One thing my reviews most certainly are NOT is "spineless." You think it doesn't take guts to criticize a local play, knowing you're going to get angry letters like this? "Spineless" would be never criticizing anything, for fear of upsetting people.]
You and The Daily Herald should be more concerned with helping our local talent. A little praise and positive recognition would have raised their self-esteem and given them the desire to perform better the next time.
Sorry, that's not our job. While we are interested in fostering local talent however we can, our main obligation is to the readers. If some people want to pay money to support theater, no matter how bad it is, just to boost people's self-esteem, that's fine. But most folks want to be entertained when they shell out 10 bucks for a show, and it's our obligation to tell them if the show isn't worth it. Those are the cold hard facts: You charge $10 for tickets, you'd better do a show worth $10. It doesn't matter whether you pay your actors or not. The audience doesn't care; they just want their money's worth. Period, end of discussion.
As for offering some "praise and positive recognition," I did. I said they all sang well. I said Margo Watson and the children were enthusiastic in their parts. I said the show has some great songs in it. The review was not entirely negative, and most of the positive stuff was right at the beginning, where it would be seen first. It's a pretty fair and even-handed review, considering the quality of the show.