Stage review: PMT is cheerily alive with the 'Sound of Music'


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"The Sound of Music" has it all: nuns, mountains, cute kids, a wedding and even Nazis. But Pittsburgh Musical Theater's current version, concluding this weekend at the Byham Theater, might be called SoM Lite, so cheerily does it focus on the upbeat in the Cinderella story of Maria, Captain von Trapp and his seven children.

The initial threats to their destined union -- her religious commitment, his stern reserve, the social and age gulfs between them, the children's resistance and the marital machinations of Elsa Schraeder -- all count for next to nothing. Only the sudden Anschluss arrival of the Nazis allows tension-and-release at the musical's end, as the new family escapes over the mountains to Switzerland and eventually America.

'The Sound of Music'

Where: Pittsburgh Musical Theater at Byham Theater, Cultural District.

When: Friday-Saturday 7:30 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m.

Tickets: $12.25-$44.75; 412-456-6666 or trustarts.org.

Along the way, director/choreographer Colleen Petrucci's production focuses on the richness of the Rodgers and Hammerstein score and the cuteness of the kids. She does well by the soaring ecclesiastical hymns, but the show pretty much takes its cue from the sentiments of "These Are a Few of My Favorite Things." At more than 21/2 hours, it could feel long, but it floats along on its music, with cute songs ("Do Re Mi") alternating with inspirational anthems ("Climb Every Mountain"). And I defy anyone to hold out against the soft sweetness of "Edelweiss," delivered with such heart by Jeff Howell.

In playing the Captain, Mr. Howell downplays the martinet -- that's clearly an uncomfortable role the Captain has forced on himself to repress his sadness at the loss of his wife. This curmudgeon is really a pushover, so he is all the more susceptible to Maria's youth and zest. In fact, he's so sweet that his principled nationalism is a welcome surprise.

Lara Hayhurst's Maria is energetic almost to a fault, explosive and flighty, even a hoyden. There really isn't anything in her that speaks of the abbey; if anything, she plays at being reverent out of her respect for the abbess, not any deep religiosity. Instead, she has an instant rapport with the children, and you really can see the spark between her and the Captain.

This downplaying of the darkness in the story extends to the seven kids, who are instantly won by Maria from the moment they meet her. They're double cast. Doubtless each group is as cute as the other.

The supporting roles are solid: staunch Abbess (Betsy Lawrence), sophisticated Elsa (Emily Lynne Miller), conniving Max (Billy Hepfinger) and scary Herr Zeller (David Cabot), to mention only the strongest.

A familiar PMT strength is the ability to fill the stage. The cast totals 42, which means the big church numbers soar and the big party scene really seems like a party, even though the guests are pretty passive.

I can't say much for the stolid set, mainly just a huge flight of steps with mountains in the rear.

To some, "The Sound of Music" is an old chestnut, predictable in its sentimentality. But with engaging performers it always proves better than expectation, like here at PMT.

theaterreviews

Senior theater critic Christopher Rawson: 412-216-1944.


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