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What audiences generally want from The Sound of Music is the closest possible approximation to the Julie Andrews movie. I don’t intend this as a condemnation; the film is wound tightly into our cultural DNA, and few movie musicals are grander. Deviation from such a deeply ingrained classic is a risky proposition: why jar when one can delight? Accordingly, the Encore Musical Theatre Company and director Barbara F. Cullen chose to play it very safe with this production. Although this is no simple mimicry (among other variations, this staging of the original Rogers and Hammerstein script and score includes three songs that did not appear in the film and omits two that did), viewers who attend the Encore production with the movie in mind should be pleased with its familiar feel.

The complete ubiquity of the play’s songs essentially partners the success of a production with the success of its music, and here musical director Jill Quagliata delivers handily. From the engrossing a cappella hymns of the abbey nuns, led by the glorious voice of Jody Doktor as Mother Abbess, to the accurate several-part harmony of the Von Trapp children, every last song is lush and rich. (It’s a good thing, too, because there were never so many reprises as there are in this musical.) Quagliata also provides piano accompaniment, assisted only by CT Hollis on keys, yet the score never stands out as being too sparse. When there’s singing, which is nearly always, the production swells and delights.

Under Cullen’s direction and the engaging presence of Leslie Henstock as Maria, the young Von Trapps (who are all double cast) flourish whether singing, speaking, or reacting. In fact, Henstock’s greatest asset — other than a fine singing voice — is her clear dedication to seeing that the children succeed and enjoy themselves onstage. As individuals, each makes a distinct and lively character; as a group, they're paying rapt attention and working together, a disciplined and well-directed ensemble.

Unfortunately, some of the adults could have used the same coaching: spoken dialogue is often void of affect, as servants and incidental characters shuffle on and off like distractions and Captain Von Trapp (Paul Kerr) rediscovers his love for music as abruptly as if he had been possessed. One shining exception is Steve DeBruyne’s Max, whose extreme self-satisfaction at mooching off his rich friends is off-putting, charming, and overall just fun to be around. His platonic companion Elsa (Elizabeth Jaffe) also gets in a few digs at Maria, her competition for the Captain's affection, and she plays the dissolve of their romance with steely regret and conviction. Choreography, also by Cullen, is not a focal point of this production, with few but Liesl and Rolf (Madison Deadman and Sebastian Gerstner) given leave to really dance; however, stage pictures are carefully arranged and make the most of the children running underfoot without devolving into chaos.

Designer Toni Auletti's setting is about as literal as could be managed, with stained-glass windows in the abbey and generously multipurpose benches; even the one-off concert hall of the play's climax gets its own look. Costumes by Colleen E. Meyer are no less literal, but the number of outfits per performer times more than twenty performers is borne out in some well-designed pieces betrayed by necessarily hasty assembly. (Regardless, the sheer volume of work speaks to Meyer's steadfast commitment.) Daniel C. Walker's lighting is unobtrusive, although some attempts to highlight parts of the stage by dimming the surrounding lights result in an unusual negative-space effect.

There is much to like in this production of The Sound of Music, more than anything its skillful, cheery singing. Encore has also tapped into an encouraging well of emerging young talent, with a dozen confident and talented small actors each a major asset to the sweet, familiar production. Ultimately, a crowd pleaser like this translates to a slam-dunk production because the viewer knows what to expect, and the theater knows precisely how to satisfy those expectations.


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