Holidays Bring Familiar Musicals To Stage

There are two reasons for this first-ever double-decker review.

First: Both shows are, if not totally sold out, at least close to it and therefore won’t be upset that neither gets a five star rating. Actually, that really shouldn’t matter.

Second: Both are familiar (maybe too much so) holiday standards and you could probably sing the scores in your sleep (or at least hum a few bars). And both count on the quotient of young performers to raise the adorable factor by many levels.

To eliminate the suspense, the musicals in question are “The Sound of Music,” which opened Friday evening at Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre and “Annie,” which has been running since Nov. 29 in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Mainstage Auditorium. Both will close on Dec. 22.

Both received Tony Awards as best musicals when they opened on Broadway, “Sound of Music” in 1959 and “Annie” in 1977. Both have been revived on the Great White Way at least once since then and have been recreated on stages around the world for more times than we care to count.

It seems, therefore, that everyone over the age of 5 must have had the opportunity to check out the dauntless nun or the optimistic orphan at lease once. It also seems that the holidays always have been/are/will be the perfect time to bring them out again. Obviously the jingle here is not from sleigh bells but the box office.

Family Harmony Counts in “The Sound of Music’”

This season, SOM became the only musical to play “LIVE” (on TV) to more than 18 million viewers. But we won’t discuss that production! The one at Wagon Wheel also was “LIVE” and received (as usual) a standing ovation from the enthusiastic audience of 500+, something the TV version could not duplicate.

Vocally, the cast was close to the summer companies, several members having been on the arena stage in the past. As in the original score, the trios for Max (Kenneth D’Elia), Elsa (Erin Vangemert) and Capt. Von Trapp (Ryan Wagner) survived and added a welcome bit of sardonic humor in the determinedly cheerful sea of upbeat melodies.

As Maria, Lauren Roesner carried much of the vocal demands in her strong soprano but would have been better served with an attractive wig or hairstyle. She interacted well with the children but on opening night both she and the Mother Abbess (Sarah Jackson) were battling an uneven balance between vocals and the excellent WW orchestra, a situation that undoubtedly has been resolved.

The seven von Trapp children sang well and looked familial. Kathleen Frazzetta was a charming Liesl and Derek Grose as her would-be sweetheart Rolf delivered the universal swagger of a teenage boy. As Gretl, the youngest sibling, Isabelle Awald twirled amazingly in “So Long, Farewell,” offering a glimpse of dances yet to come.

The recycled set, designed by the late Roy Hine, was, as always, flexible and believable as convent, ballroom, mountain, etc. happily subscribing to the often-ignored theory that less is more. Excepting the nuns; habits, the costumes were disappointing with the outfit Maria described as “not even wanted by the poor” about the most attractive one she wore.

Little Girls Steal The Show in SBCT “Annie”

As a community theater production, “Annie” fared less well. Director Mary Hubbard chose to double cast both Annie and the nine orphans so I can only judge by the ”Empire Cast” of youngsters who played Saturday night.

Annie South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe definite scene stealer was red-haired Emma Kopec as Molly, the “littlest orphan,” who showed comic timing and delivery way above her years and made an instant connection with the audience. In the title role, Erin Joines left no doubt as to her ability to belt “Maybe” and “Tomorrow” and their frequent reprises.

As always, the rambunctious charges of Miss Hannigan (Melissa Prestine) were justifiable audience favorites with “Hard Knock Life” and “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile” show-stoppers. Ditto for “Easy Street,” the grifters’ anthem delivered by Prestine, Kearn Hinchman as Hannigan’s brother Rooster and Jillian Tully as his blowsy girlfriend.

As Oliver (Daddy) Warbucks, Sean Hayes is several decades too young for the role but has a solid baritone and bit the bullet by shaving his head rather than opting for a wrinkley bald pate.

The ensemble works well as residents of Hooverville, members of Warbuck’s staff and residents of “NYC.” The fact that Annie’s faithful dog Sandy was black was not as upsetting as the long and very visible rope which attached him to a “homeless” person sitting stage right.

Even more upsetting was the fact that Annie, a carrot-top since her birth in the funny papers, never had a touch of red hair, even in the short and curly wig she usually-but-didn’t here don for the happy finale.

I was disappointed to find scenic designer Jaycee Rohlck’s set had the same loudly rumbling inserts shoved on and off while overhead for some reason, laundry was hung out to dry from overture to finale.

It seems that SBCT has elected to use recorded music mixed by a sound designer/operator. If this continues, I would hope they select another blend of instruments. This one sounds mostly like a calliope.

“ANNIE” plays through Dec. 22 in the Wilson Mainstage Auditorium at South Bend Civic Theatre, 403 N. Main St. For performance times and reservations, call 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org.

“THE SOUND OF MUSIC” plays through Dec. 22 in Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre, 217 E. Center Street. For performance times and reservations, call 267-8041 or visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.com