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‘The Sound of Music’ entertains, but clearly shows Austria’s sympathies

Journal Correspondent

Keslie Ward as Liesl and Chad P. Campbell as Rolf. Photo by Matthew Murphy

MAY 10, 2018 – How do you solve a problem like a Musical Book? This question always arises on hearing the far-too-tame description of Austria’s response to Nazism and the 1938 Third Reich Anschluss (annexation) in the musical “The Sound of Music.” Co-authors Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse have half of Austria not speaking to the other half, although almost all Austrians – except Communists, gypsies and, of course, Jews – actually welcomed the Germans into their homeland without hesitation (a welcome even documented by photos).

Director Matt Lenz, following in original revival director Jack O’Brien’s footsteps, has made Austrian sympathies clear by providing five long side-by-side Nazi banners bearing large swastikas as the telling backdrop for the pivotal late second act Kaltzberg Concert Hall Stage competition – after which the winning von Trapp family escapes. Without diminishing the appeal of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s last great score, the current well-sung and visually striking tour at Boch Center’s Wang Theatre – to borrow from an early second act duo – has definitely done something good.

Lenz’s earnest, high-energy ensemble does full justice to the winning score. Jill-Christine Wiley brings fresh phrasing and gesturing to Maria’s rendition – especially on the title number and the snappy children-involving song “The Lonely Goatherd.” Mike McLean looks too young to play World War I veteran Captain Georg von Trapp and needs more tenacity in the early going but he does find the anti-Nazi’s heart and feeling – most notably in the moving “Edelweiss.” Boston Conservatory graduate Lauren Kidwell (M.F.A. in musical theater) proves a big-voiced standout as the Mother Abbess, who remembers the joy of singing the brilliantly detailed “My Favorite Things” in her youth and joins Maria on it with gusto. Her first act-closing solo on the spirited “Climb Every Mountain” is an unequivocal showstopper.

Jonathan Warren, recreating Danny Mefford’s high-stepping choreography, has the talented young performers playing the von Trapp children frolicking with mentoring Maria as they embrace music and singing under her guidance.

Dramatic license has the von Trapps climbing to safety at night when they actually took a train to Italy in broad daylight. As the family singers moved around, they were troubled by the sight of Jewish children being mistreated by their classmates. Lindsay and Crouse do not include this important factor. Still, Linz – and O’Brien before him – add needed edginess. Enjoy your favorite things in this strong revival, but do keep in mind the enormity of Austria’s complicity with the Nazis.

“The Sound of Music,” national tour presented by Boch Center at Wang Theatre, Boston, through May 13. bochcenter.org or 844-753-8364.

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