THEATRE REVIEW – Duluth Playhouse's The Sound of Music Shows Its Timeless Appeal


Video preview of Duluth Playhouse The Sound of Music - From Duluth Playhouse YouTube channel


THEATRE REVIEW Duluth Playhouse's The Sound of Music Shows Its Timeless Appeal
By Sheryl Jensen, Arts & Entertainment Editor

The full house opening night audience at Duluth Playhouse’s The Sound of Music was ready to have composer Richard Rodger’s enchanting, timeless score fill the air with familiar melodies from one of the most beloved musicals of all time.

Premiering on Broadway in 1959, where it won a Best Musical Tony Award, and immortalized in the 1965 Oscar-winning movie version with Julie Andrews, the stage musical remains wildly popular with today’s audiences, as evidenced by the pre-opening sold-out houses for the Playhouse run.

Director Philip Fazio and choreographer Wes Drummond do not look to reinvent this show, but in a fast-paced two hours, they and their cast tell the enduring story to an audience who was more than ready to hear it again.The tagline of the film was “The Happiest Sound in All The World,” and the Playhouse audience was clearly delighted with those sounds of happiness throughout.

And while it was not written as a holiday show, its themes of hope, joy, and courage, have resonated with audiences in every season. With its plucky heroine, brave hero, a septet of endearing children, cloister full of singing nuns, and its sentimental look back at the old-fashioned book musical, the show is destined to be a perennial favorite.

The Playhouse orchestra and cast delivered from the first note of the nun’s chorus, bringing the audience back to the true story of the von Trapp family, with songs that many in the audience would have gladly sung along with the cast.

Curtis Phillips’ single von Trapp villa set was truly majestic and stately. It did, however, seem limiting for some scenes, especially at times such as Maria’s opening title song, “The Sound of Music,” meant to be sung with a backdrop of the awe-inspiring Alps and countryside she so loves. Having her walk down steps in an interior set lost some of the song’s impact, even with a few shadowy Alp mountains dimly seen through the interior set’s windows.

Jeff Brown’s lighting helped to create mood and time, and worked to enhance the story-telling. Particularly effective was the bold lightning as the impetus for the von Trapp children to tumble into Maria’s bed and gleefully sing “The Lonely Goatherd.”

Balancing the orchestra and the cast especially well, sound designer Nick Gossen kept the dialogue and lyrics crisp and clear throughout. Under the direction of Kyle Picha, the orchestra was a wonderful accompaniment to the singers, never overwhelming them, but providing the fullness and liveliness that Rodgers’ score deserves.

True to period style throughout, costume designer Peg Ferguson had fun with the children’s matching outfits with their sailor suits and their cute play clothes made from Maria’s curtains. From the nuns’ habits with every tunic, wimple, coif, and veil in place, to the menacing Nazi uniform with the glaring red swastika on the sleeve and threatening jackboots, Ferguson’s costumes were also essential to evoke time and place.

The children are double cast, alternating shows. Opening night had the “Green” cast with  Liesl (Abrianna Schmidt); Frederich (Dane Ottjes); Louisa.(Addy Wheeler); Kurt (Cole Ottjes); Brigitta (Gigi Calland): Marta (Norah Pierson) and Gretl (Ada Sather).

From the youngest to the oldest, each of the children had a chance to shine, with the septet of von Trapp children clearly an audience favorite throughout. Sather, as the tiny blond-haired Gretl, was absolutely adorable, starting from her first moment on stage when she gave a little wave to family in the front row.

Schmidt’s shy but ready-to-be grown-up Liesl, with Greyson Holste as Rolf in their “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” song is an early moment of sweet innocence, later contrasted with the literal and figurative darkness in the show’s last scene.

Alyson Enderle, with her boundless energy, earnestness, and vulnerability, paired with her sense of mischief and play, made the role of Maria her own. Showing the transformative power of music and love, Enderle was the heart and soul of the show.

With her charming songs with the children, in her unguarded solos, and in her sweeter moments with the Captain, she used the power and nuance of her voice to command the stage and show all the facets of Maria’s inner life and her growing feelings for the children and the Captain.

As the domineering Captain von Trapp with his incessant whistle, Jace Le Garde’s powerful voice was undeniably a musical highlight. While he seemed a bit young for the role, he made the most of each song with his gorgeous voice, especially in the heartbreaking anthem of patriotism in “Edelweiss,” wanting desperately to bless his homeland, about to be lost to the Nazi encroachment.

The nun’s full chorus had breathtaking harmonies in each of their songs. In the role of the Mother Abbess, Lacy Sauter’s pure, warm, and soaring soprano voice and her stratospheric final note in “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” brought well-deserved, and roaring applause to end the first act. Reprising it with the nuns as the von Trapp family starts their ascent to escape through the Alps was inspirational at show’s end.

Although The Sound of Music was written over sixty years ago about events that happened over eighty years ago, it is tragically as current and heart-wrenching as today’s headlines, with displaced and terrorized innocents in more than one war zone, running in fear of their lives. The musical is a beacon of light, showing the best of the human spirit, determination, and will to survive against all the darkest forces of evil, hate, and tyranny.

With all 14 performances of THE SOUND OF MUSIC nearly completely sold out, they have added TWO extra performances on Wednesdays, December 6 and 13.  For Tickets, call 218.733.7555 or reserve online at


About Sheryl Jensen - Arts & Entertainment Editor

A retired educator with the Duluth Public Schools, Sheryl Jensen has been a theater director of over 60 school and community productions. Her production of William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew at East High School won the National High School Theater award from the BRAVO television network.

Having written theater, music, dance, and opera reviews for the Duluth News Tribune for many years, she now is the Arts & Entertainment Editor for Destination Duluth.



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