The hills are alive at the Gateway
‘The Sound of Music’ makes its ebullient debut July 31
Brandi Burkhardt was rehearsing a scene as Maria, who teaches the Austrian Laendler folk dance to youngster Kurt, while musical director Hosun Moon plays the piano. It’s the pivotal moment that urges Captain von Trapp to step in, and after a graceful turn, both of them realize they are in love.
The Gateway rehearsals were in full swing last week for the radiant Rodgers and Hammerstein favorite, “The Sound of Music,” about Maria Rainer, a Salzburg nun who is tapped as a nanny for the von Trapp family, tames the unruly kids and winds up falling in love with their stern father, who has been afraid to show emotion after his first wife dies. The backdrop is Austria just before the Nazis take over. Previews begin Wednesday, July 31. It will run through Saturday, Aug. 17 at The Gateway in Bellport.
Burkhardt, a screen and Broadway regular (Lucie Manette in the “Jekyll & Hyde Resurrection Tour,” Sophie in “Mamma Mia” and hit TV shows like “Hart of Dixie” and “Odd Man Out”), has the delicate beauty, fine voice and inner strength for this Maria.
“I was in the senior production [of ‘The Sound of Music’] as Maria in high school,” she said during a break. “I used to sing ‘The Sound of Music’ in pageants (she was Miss New York) and my grandmother made my costumes,” she said.
Ryan K. Bailer (Juan Perón in the first National Tour of “Evita!” and Javert in the National Tour of “Les Misérables”) has the gravitas presence for the Captain von Trapp role.
“I grew up with the movie, but never saw myself as Captain von Trapp; I thought more, Billy Bigelow [from ‘Carousel’],” he said. “I hold Christopher Plummer [who played the lead in the film] in such high regard I never put myself on that level. Then I saw someone else do the role and thought maybe I could.”
Both are making their Gateway debuts. Bailer just segued from the Ogunquit Playhouse production of “42nd Street,” and admitted practicing “Edelweiss” in the street with Sally Struthers, who joined him in an impromptu sing-along.
They have to play the guitar. “As of yesterday,” Bailer said of his introduction to the instrument. “They had someone teach me the chords. I grew up playing the piano; it’s hard, the angle on the wrist.” What about the boatswain whistle the captain summons his children with?
“I’m learning,” he said.
Burkhardt has to master Mary Martin’s key. “It’s lower and gives me more power,” she said. That was in the stage version, which Martin originated at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in 1959.
Bailer, who is a new father, commented that the real Captain von Trapp was a very good father, affectionate with his children; the resulting stage and movie versions made him more distant. Bailer’s approach was trying to bring a sense of loss to the role.
“He lost the love of his life, then Elsa comes along,” he said thoughtfully of the socialite who almost snares him. “She’s glamorous and beautiful, but she’s not right for him. Then Maria comes along and reminds him of joy.”
“That’s the part I like,” Burkhardt said, “the fullness of joy.”
Director/choreographer Mitzi Hamilton — who has directed and choreographed over 50 productions of “A Chorus Line” in Europe, the United States and Asia including last year’s Gateway production — said there were changes. Most have seen producer and director Robert Wise’s 1965 blockbuster movie, a beautifully created film that received five Academy Awards (Wise won for Best Picture and Director) but the stage musical won five Tonys and ran for three years (it has enjoyed London and Broadway revivals). It was the last musical Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote together; Hammerstein died in 1960.
“I asked if I can have ‘I Have Confidence’ and ‘Something Good’ that were in the movie, in this production,” Hamilton said. “Richard Rodgers wrote both of them after Hammerstein died.” Any theatre production must get approval from the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization for changes to the original script.
Hamilton admitted it was a big show. “There are two sets of children,” she said. “They’re all so sweet and will be adorable.”
The Gateway owns the set; there will be Alps, the mansion, the convent.
Erin Grace Kelly, a recent Bellport High School graduate, will play Liesl. Kelly has starred in many Gateway productions over the years, and played Liesl in her junior year in high school. “I love the movie,” Kelly said. “It was my grandmother’s favorite film of all time.” Her best-loved scene is “Something Good,” in the gazebo. “It’s one of the most beautiful scenes in the show. It’s not like a Hollywood romance.” Kelly is headed for SUNY Fredonia to major in musical theater.
“I’ve been taking acting classes here since I was 8 and never thought it would be a career path and here I am talking to you,” she said.
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