Sunday, 29 April 2012

This Maria needs no fixin'

 The Citadel Theatre has presented a big musical pretty much every year since Bob Baker took over in 1999, and Edmonton audiences have loved him for it. Besides the theatre's annual Christmas hit, A Christmas Carol, the musical theatre productions are a box office lodestone for obvious reasons.
Musicals are goofy. People are suddenly impelled to break into song and dance just for the hell of it, but when the songs are so great that folks leave humming  them, and during the show a fresh ear worm riggles into consciousness every 10 or 15 minutes, why overthink the beauty of giving ticket buyers what they want? There's no shame in serving the art that sells. In fact, so popular are these musicals, normally the run gets extended even before it starts, which was true for The Sound of Music this year.
There are few musicals with as many memorable tunes as The Sound of Music, and Baker's current production of the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein chestnut has enough good singers in it to win over an already susceptible audience. Any successful musical has to start with a great selection of songs, but there is no substitute for solid singing to get the goofy thing across.
No woman singing the lead role of Maria can ever avoid being compared to Julie Andrews' in the 1965 film adaptation of the Broadway hit, but at the same time any singer cast in the role knows she's likely on her way up the mountain to a decent career because if you're Maria, it's your show, and if someone like Baker gives you that responsibility, it's bound to give you one more solid foothold on your way up.
Josée Boudreau
From the first appearance of Josée Boudreau striking the iconic pose Andrews made famous singing "the hills are alive with the sound of music," in the movie, arms outstretched in glorious optimism, relishing the sheer pleasure of singing, Bourdreau is convincing. She has a lovely voice that she can navigate from an unstrained Broadway belt into what I would call actual singing. It's always a relief when you know you aren't going to have to root for a singer to improve from a bad start.
Maria goes through a great range of experience in the Sound of Music. She has to deal with the convent characters, playing the defensive and the defiant postulant. She needs to enliven and manage the scenes when she and the von Trapp children are the focus, and she needs to seem plausible as a firm foil to the authoritarian stick in the mud Capt. von Trapp, and then his equal in her romantic relationship with the ultimately pliable captain. (The Lonely Goatherd scene is the singing nanny's biggest theatrical test, and Boudreau and the kids land it, both yodlewise and otherwise. Good, controlled rambunctiousness.)
Bourdeau vindicates Baker's belief in her. Baker has given Boudreau plenty of work and training over the past few years. He has seen her develop, and he has let her grow here in Edmonton. The New Brunswick-born, Toronto-trained makes Maria her own confidently and with genuinely fine musicality.
The rest of the cast, including a number of local actors/singers, is solid. The intermittent appearance of the nuns' chorus is always pleasant, not always perfect pitch-wise , but certainly pleasant. Susan Henley is obviously a versatile singing actor. Her My Favourite Things with Maria and her Climb Every Mountain scene with the nuns I'm sure tempted many audience members to sing along. I didn't hear anybody break into song.
Réjean Cournoyer has solid musical theatre chops. He, of course, will be compared to Christopher Plummer's take on Captain von Trapp. He doesn't do domineering as well as Plummer, and although Cournoyer is not a kid, the sense that he's en route to a sort of May-January engagement with young Maria doesn't quite come across. She's about to marry a man with seven-children, a man old enough to be her father, after all.
I especially liked Susan Gilmour as Elisa, the woman who is the captain's love interest, and more his age, until he starts hankering for the babysitter. Gilmour exudes her character's class, and she's obviously a real singer as well.
The children in the cast were fine. They're children, so let's just say, they're clearly capable of taking instruction and getting work done. Megan Anderson has a nice role as 16-going-on-17 Liesl, and Liesl gets a couple of scenes where she can be in charge. Anderson played her too demurely, I thought.
All the kids could hold a tune, but Ryan Jackson (Kurt) delivered a few beautiful boy soprano notes on his own at one point, and everyone in the audience recognized the effect excellent musical moments can have. Jackson will never play Maria, of course, but he has some serious musical potential.
Overall, Baker's Sound of Music delivers what any of the classic Broadway musicals that have made it into the standard repertoire can do. They give listeners the pleasure of sharing something both exceptional and familiar done live. The Citadel obviously believes in serving its community's tastes, and serve it it does with this tried and true musical.


  1. I thought the comments re the kids were unfair. They have gotten the most applause each and every night! Liesl, she does not get to chose how she plays it, that is the directors job is it not? Demure, I am wondering which performance you saw? Maria is wonderful and made so even more by the wonderful cast of kids.

  2. FYI, did you know that Megan Anderson performed opening night, Fri night, Sat night and 2 shows on sun with a temp of over 105 degrees with sore throat etc.....time for a paradym shift.

  3. I saw the show last Wednesday. I know it's always risky saying kids in shows aren't fantastic. What's the likelihood the audience wouldn't be appreciative and encouraging, regardless of the particulars of the performance? Anyway, the kids were fine, but they didn't make Boudreau's effect stronger.