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STAGE REVIEW

Spotty `Sound of Music' is still something good

The Sound of Music
Music and lyrics by Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Directed by Drew Scott Harris. cq Musical direction by Leo P. Carusone. Sets, Kenneth Foy. Costumes, Robert Fletcher and Vincent Scassellati. Lights, John McLain. Choreography, Norb Joerder. Sound, Abe Jacob.

At: the Wang Center, last night through Sept. 21.

Reprinted from late editions of yesterday's Globe.

In a couple of months, "The Sound of Music" will celebrate its 44th birthday. It's looking pretty indestructible. It has survived Hollywood, a tour with Debby Boone, summer stock, high schools; it even survived the dreadful sound system that was in use at the Wang Center Wednesday night and distorted every word and tone.

This touring production originated in Atlanta's Theater of the Stars, and it is a respectable effort. Production values are minimal (the Alps are painted), and the company looked a little underpopulated for the Wang's vast spaces. Drew Scott Harris's direction was merely serviceable. The millionairess Elsa Schraeder, choosing Hitler over the Baron, announces she must pack, and then walks away from the house.

But there's a talented, sincere, and hard-working cast, and most of the seven children of Baron von Trapp are unaffectedly charming. One of them, Kurt (Patrick S. Minor), looks just like carrot-topped Ron in the "Harry Potter" movies, not a look one associates with Austria in the 1930s, but that is hardly the only anachronism on view.

Marla Schaffel, recently Broadway's Jane Eyre, is appealing as Maria, particularly after she drops her absurdly coltish prancing; no wonder all the nuns in the abbey worry about her. Schaffel is a skillful actress and has a good, strong voice, secure all the way up to high C, but her style and sound are more modern than Rodgers and Hammerstein's. "When the dog bites," she snarls, looking as knowingly lubricious as Madonna.

Burke Moses doesn't bring much presence or personality to the Baron warmed back to life by Maria, but he has a better baritone voice than many of his predecessors in the role. Ed Dixon gathers all the borscht belt cliches into his portrayal of Max, the secretary of education and culture, but Colleen Fitzpatrick brings an icy blond chill to the opportunist Elsa.

Friedrich, the firstborn child, is supposed to be 14, but he looks a generation older than the others; the rest of them don't look and act like showbiz kids at all, and Kristen Bowden is particularly appealing as the troubled Liesl. Bret Shuford is light on his feet as the young dancing Nazi whom she loves and who lets the Trapp family escape because he once had a crush on her. Jeanne Lehman is warmhearted and feisty as the Mother Abbess, but she doesn't have the heavy operatic guns to fire for her big number. She rushes through "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," and it comes out more scary than inspiring.

Decades of parody and ridicule haven't destroyed "The Sound of Music." Rodgers and Hammerstein were sentimentalists and as manipulative as Puccini, but they believed in what they were doing, and that's what keeps their work alive. The story is stirring, and the Austrian dance rhythms are captivating. The show boasts great tunes that familiarity has not dimmed; when they appear, they are old friends you are happy to encounter again. Most of all, the show has heart. Wednesday night the Wang Center was full of children, brought by parents not yet born when "Sound of Music" opened its pre-Broadway tryout at the Shubert in 1959, and a new generation fell in love with it. No one can feel cynical about that.

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