‘Fräulein’ is a bawdy yet affectionate tribute

Michael Preston holds Doug Elkins in “Fräulein Maria.’’ Michael Preston holds Doug Elkins in “Fräulein Maria.’’ (ArtsEmerson)
By Karen Campbell
Globe Correspondent / September 25, 2010

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After seeing Doug Elkins’s clever, gender-bending “Fräulein Maria,’’ you may be hard pressed to hear “Climb Ev’ry Mountain’’ without picturing his thug-alicious Mother Superior. Clothed in a black hoodie and baggy gym shorts, he follows every rainbow via the mean streets, with quicksilver boxer-like footwork and bad B-Boy moves, blowing us off at the end with a brassy finger kiss.

Yes indeed, Elkins’s family-friendly deconstruction of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s classic “The Sound of Music,’’ given its Boston premiere last night, takes considerable liberties with the beloved 1965 film. First of all, there are three Marias, and one of them is a man. How’s that for a little something for everyone? But “Fräulein Maria’’ is not just a bawdy sendup. It’s also an affectionate tribute that has the audience guffawing one moment and sighing the next.

It’s decidedly low-tech. There is no dialogue and little storyline beyond what is implied in the songs from the original soundtrack. As Julie Andrews’s dulcet tones bring the hills alive, dancers unfurl long swaths of stretchy cloth, creating sculptural tree-like shapes underneath. A hand-held yellow plate becomes the moon.

Michael Preston, a kind of roving master-of-ceremonies, ushers characters on and offstage, works puppets, brings on costumes, and at one point channels Lon Chaney as “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.’’ When the von Trapp children line up for introductions, he hilariously plays the youngest daughter, hunched over with a rag doll body hanging from his neck. Bang Group founder David Parker portrays Liesl with robust lasciviousness. While each of the children offer a little hip-hop flavored slap dance for their new governess, Parker offers a full-on Broadway routine.

For “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,’’ Parker flirts outrageously with Gui Greene, whose kickboxing moves send him flipping sideways and end over end with breathtaking virtuosity. “The Lonely Goatherd’’ features folk dance entwined with the hard, angular energy of street dance. “Do-Re-Mi’’ sports a vividly distinct movement phrase for each note of the scale. Elkins skillfully layers the phases to illustrate the thickening texture and counterpoint of the music.

Given the concept, the sheer fun of “Fräulein Maria’’ isn’t surprising. The icing on the cake is the depth and range of the choreography. Elkins integrates disparate elements with such fluidity it’s like a whole new language, and his dancers are spectacular. They shift weight and direction on a dime, then melt into sensuous ripples that roll through the torso and out the limbs, maybe tossing off a few pelvic undulations along the way. They can spin a balletic pirouette into a break dance isolation, then tumble into the rigorous floor moves of capoeira. But in the end, they send us away not with irreverent sass, but with a sweet “So Long, Farewell’’ that tugs at the heartstrings.

Karen Campbell can be reached at

FRÄULEIN MARIA Conceived and choreographed

by Doug Elkins

Directed by Barbara Karger

and Michael Preston

Music by Richard Rodgers

Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

ArtsEmerson at the Paramount Theatre

Thursday night, through Oct. 3