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Compass Rose Theater’s The Sound of Music

A small staging delivers on theater’s favorite things

Katie Keyser as Maria is particularly good in her scenes with the von Trapp children. <<photo by Stan Barouh>>

Compass Rose opens its little new theater with a giant of American musical theater.
     Written in 1959 with music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein and book by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse, The Sound of Music went on to win the Best Musical Tony Award. 
    No surprise there: Music has a
dramatic true story for inspiration, and Hammerstein’s brilliant lyrics and songs sound vibrant over 50 years later.
    How does a small theater like Compass Rose produce an expansive musical set incuding the Alps, a castle and a monastery?
    Surprisingly well.
    Indicating locale changes with minimal props and changing banners, the three-level set by Joe Powell allows the audience to imagine the setting for themselves. A center-stage staircase helps director Lucinda Merry-Browne delineate action areas, even using the audience center row.
    Merry-Browne cast the show effectively and moves the action along smoothly. She focused on characters, drawing highly realistic interplay from child-actors and enlisting powerful adult voices to carry the memorable music. This music is so good that having a single piano accompany the music (by Erika Knepp) loses nothing in the downscaling.
    The Sound of Music requires a Maria with warmth and a beautiful voice. Merry-Browne found her in Katie Keyser. Vocally strong, Keyser is particularly good in her scenes with the children. Watch her glances to each child; they are distinctly different and thoroughly realistic.
    To provide balance, a strong Captain von Trapp is needed. Andre Softeland takes von Trapp from isolated loneliness to sweet loveliness without losing the strength of conviction he needs to spirit his family away from Nazi forces.
    As the Mother Abbess who nurtures Maria, Jill Sharpe Compton has the powerhouse song, “Climb Every Mountain.” Since the acoustics in the Compass Rose Theater are extraordinarily good, when Compton lets loose, her voice rings throughout the space.
    The nuns’ chorus — made up of Lynn Garretson (Sister Margaretta), Rebecca Dreyfuss (Sister Sophia) and Maggie Leigh Walker (Sister Berthe) — blend their voices beautifully. Their success, as well as that of the children’s chorus is due to musical director Anita O’Connor.
    The children work as a strong unit, yet each has a distinct personality. And the voices! It’s hard to believe such accomplished singers and actors are so young. The children are Mariel White (Liesl), Daniel Starnes (Friedrich), Mallory Holson (Louisa), Annabelle Cotton (Kurt), Madelyn Schloss (Brigitta), Sarah Grace Clifton (Marta) and Sophia Nasreen Riazi-Sekowski (Gretl).
    The second act with its dark political overtones isn’t as effective as the effervescent first act. But who can quibble after hearing talented youngsters and adults sing glowing music from The Sound of Music?
    The most memorable moment of the show is when Softeland wistfully sings “Edelweiss.” This ode to Austria’s national flower becomes his solo statement of patriotism, and he delivers it softly and haltingly, until it fades to a stop. Then the children take up the chorus, an amazing look passes between von Trapp and Maria and they all end the song together. 
    In this show of big music and big sets, that small moment shows the power of this small theater company.

Choreographers; Justin Cerne and Jamie Odgen. Costume designer: Julie Bays. Lighting designer: Max Dolittle. Piano accompanist: Yee-Ning Soong.  Stage manager: Julia Singer. Set designer: Joe Powell. Set decoration and props: JoAnn Gidos and Mike Gidos with Jude Nevins. Student assistant director: Delaney Pendry.
Playing Th-Sa 8pm, Su 2pm thru Nov. 10 (both shows on Sa Oct. 12 are sold out) at Compass Rose Theater, Annapolis. $35 w/discounts; rsvp: