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Stratford’s “The Sound of Music”

The Stratford Festival has jumped on the Rodgers and Hammerstein bandwagon this season, providing their answer to the problem of Maria by staging “The Sound of Music”, with director and choreographer Donna Feore and musical director Laura Burton at the helm.

Most recently, the musical has had successful international runs in South Korea, Argentina, and Thailand and has been picked up for a major North American tour to be directed by Jack O’Brien in 2015 and 2016.

Maria, the Cultural Icon

With the 50th anniversary and re-release of the Julie Andrews film adaptation, Maria is back in her 21st century form. If you missed Lady Gaga’s performance of “The Sound of Music” medley at the 2015 Oscars, see it below. Lady Gaga’s homage to “The Sound of Music” is a reminder of how powerful the spiritual introspection of Maria’s character truly was and continues to be.

After Lady Gaga’s performance Julie Andrews makes an appearance speaking about the music.

The story of “The Sound of Music” is known by most—a young governess, Maria, chooses true love over the monastic path. She shares her passion for song and music with the children under her care, and in so doing, brings together the Von Trapp family as they evade the Nazis during the annexation of Austria in 1938.

Strong female characters such as Maria afford us with a special opportunity: we can bask in their unique brand of complexity. Rarely, especially in musical theatre, do we have an opportunity to explore the inner world of a female character separate from her relationship to a man in a play.

With Maria, however, her personhood shimmers through eccentricity, song, and her knack for teaching, governessing, and parenting—these are the hats that she wears interchangeably throughout the story.

The Power of Song in “The Sound of Music”

Heed Maria’s advice- let yourself ‘trip and fall down the brook’ of song.

Maria’s lyrical introspection stands in contrast to the ferocious intellectualism that Nazi Germany used to proliferate and act on its eugenic policy. Through her love of music and her constant assistance, Maria helps the Captain re-invigorate his relationship with his children. Without Maria, would he have accepted the position in the German Navy that is offered to him in Act II? Maria helps the Captain recognize the insidiousness of the Nazi way of thinking and this drives him to flee with his family.

The songs of the “The Sound of Music” are as deep as they are broad. The lyrics are equal parts heaviness and lightness. The poetry is earnest, without the usual irony and cynicism we have come to associate with many literary classics:
“The hills are alive with the sound of music, with songs they have sung for a thousand years…”
“My heart wants to beat with the wings of the birds that rise…”
“Follow every rainbow until you find your dream, a dream that will need all the love you can give, every day of your life, for as long as you live…”

The natural world, belief in one’s self, following one’s heart, the pain of trying to find love and satisfaction each day—these are the lifeblood of a character like Maria.

Going to see the “The Sound of Music” is almost like one of Maria’s walks in the Alps, during which she reflects on the landscapes of her emotional and spiritual self, and simultaneously loses herself in the beauty that surrounds her. We try not to think too hard and instead enjoy the feeling of hearing what we have heard before.

“How do you solve a problem like Maria? How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?” There is no need to solve the problem or catch the cloud. Clouds are amazing and we don’t always have to understand them to appreciate their importance in our lives- so too for “The Sound of Music”.

By Robert Bickford
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