The Sound of Music

Also: Stones in His Pockets

The Sound of Music

5th Avenue Theatre; ends Sun., Dec. 18

The 5th Ave's Sound of Music is a pop-up storybook of a musical—pretty, sweet, and just a little bit stiff. The show was a late replacement for a touring production of Dr. Dolittle, which was canceled in October by its producers. It looks somewhat hastily assembled, with hand-me-down, painted Alpine sets and rudimentary blocking and choreography. But the singing is exuberant and the seven kids in the cast are all adorable. The youngest one, 5-year-old Paige Befeler, with her determined but goofy air, is enough to make these hills come alive all by herself.

Befeler is the real-life daughter of lead actress Kim Huber, which might partially explain why she looks so comfortable onstage. Huber (who toured as Belle in Beauty and the Beast) makes a fine Maria, across from Broadway vet Terrence Mann as Capt. Georg von Trapp. Frankly, it wouldn't take a very large test tube to contain Huber and Mann's onstage chemistry, but they work up genuine warmth with the children, and their voices are strong and clear in the best Broadway style. And music, after all—not romance—is what this family show is about. "My Favorite Things," "Do-Re-Mi," and the simple and heartbreaking "Edelweiss" represent some of Rodgers and Hammerstein's most enduring work.

With the music in mind, opera singer Susan Marie Pierson was well cast as Mother Abbess; when she opens those pipes, you want to jump out of your seat to climb every mountain yourself. Other excellent performers round out the cast, including Carol Swarbrick, Elizabeth Arnold, and Leslie Law as singing nuns, and local thespians David Hunter Koch and Kristin Flanders as Georg's wry friend and mismatched fiancée.

The stage version of The Sound of Music preceded the better-known film, so this show won't match exactly the Julie Andrews–saturated memories of your youth. But the underlying tale of the motherless von Trapp children, the governess who mended their family with music, and the family's flight from Hitler is the same. If this particular production is not spectacular or lively enough to convert new fans, no one who loves this familiar story and these songs will walk away disappointed. LYNN JACOBSON

Stones in His Pockets

Capitol Hill Arts Center; ends Sat., March 11, 2006

If there's little surprise in the story line of Marie Jones' Stones in His Pockets, this well-written, funny, and deeply felt script offers actors an extraordinary chance to soar. It calls for only two actors to play more than a dozen roles, each moving rapidly among a rich spread of characters while maintaining both narrative clarity and emotional momentum. Like a concerto by Rachmaninoff, Stones presents an almost athletic challenge to an actor's ability.

Jones' play neither pillories nor glorifies its subject, life in a small Irish village. A Hollywood production company invades the town and incites a storm of chaos among its inhabitants, many of whom it takes on as extras in the film.

Talent trumps all manner of obstacles, of course, and Darragh Kennan and Tim Hyland, under Jerry Manning's direction, prove themselves fully up to the task. First, Manning shrewdly strips the stage bare; rather than relying on partitioning or some other trick of spatial division, he simply uses strong blocking, sharp lighting, and some wonderful sound design to create a sense of different locations and settings. The rest is up to Hyland and Kennan, who turn in two (or is it 14?) of the finest performances of the year. In CHAC's intimate lower theater, they create a complete reality, whether sitting in the dim, noisy local pub or wandering out on the rolling greens where the crew films its tawdry Hollywood product. Each role Kennan and Hyland inhabit is so well-defined, so idiosyncratic and true, they give the illusion of plenitude, as though the stage teems with an ensemble cast. Visceral, funny, and emotionally dead-on, their performances turn an already good play into an absorbing tragicomedy, and one of the biggest surprises of the year. RICHARD MORIN

 
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