Mary Martin. Julie Andrews. Rochelle Weinrauch?
OK. You may not have heard of Weinrauch, who plays the lead role of Maria in the Granite Theatre’s production of “The Sound of Music.” Still, the bright-eyed young actress deserves credit for taking on one of the Broadway musical stage’s most enduring roles and making it her own.
Based on the true story of the Von Trapps, an aristocratic Austrian family headed by the stern sea captain, Georg (Bill Martuscello), “The Sound Music” takes place in the days and weeks leading up to the Nazi invasion of Austria in 1938. Widowed with seven children to care for, Von Trapp hires Maria, a postulant (a nun in-training) from local Nonnberg Abbey, to look after his boisterous brood. Though reluctant, at first, to leave the abbey — where she has a reputation for singing in the halls, climbing trees, and other such un-nunly behavior — Maria soon endears herself to the children, and softens the captain’s heart with her love of life and song. Watching from the sidelines with vested interest are Max Detweiler (Ed Benjamin III), the captain’s ingratiating friend, and Elsa Schrader (Anna Armagno), a widowed socialite. Max recognizes the potential of cashing in on the Von Trapp children’s previously untapped choral capabilities — lovingly coaxed to the surface by Maria — while Elsa envisions herself as the next Mrs. Von Trapp. The captain’s inevitable love for Maria extinguishes Elsa’s plans while the ultimate bad guys — the Nazis — all but ruin Max’s ambitions when the Von Trapps are forced to make a choice: stay and capitulate to the Germans, fight them, or flee to a better life.
These kinds of choices lie at the heart of the story, particularly for Maria, who must decide whether to follow her heart and lead a secular life with the Von Trapps, or retire to the safety of the abbey, even though Mother Abbess (Dale Magnuson) warns her that its walls are not meant to protect her from the world. She must, as the kindly abbess enjoins her in the rousing “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” follow life’s often difficult path in order to achieve ultimate happiness.
The cast and, especially, the stage crew of the Granite’s “Sound of Music” tread a difficult path themselves in order to bring this enormous production to the relatively tiny stage of the Granite Theatre. Working a complex series of set changes, multiple scenes, costume changes and musical numbers, the theater company does an amazing job, considering the stage space with which it had to work. The various stage sets flip open, draw back, and fold in and out between the multiple scenes, transporting the audience from the abbey, to the Von Trapp villa, and even to the alpine heights above Salzburg, with the all the versatility of a Swiss army knife. (While creative, albeit occasionally clumsy, these set changes do tend to drag the action a bit, compounding the running time of the performance to just under three hours. But considering the challenges, the crew does a yeoman’s job of keeping it all moving and in place on cue.)
The music, of course, plays a dominant role, and Weinrauch delivers her many numbers with sweetness, though perhaps lacking a bit of the punch for which the character of Maria is known. It is also a pity that more could not be heard from the very capable baritone voice of Max Leatham as Rolf Gruber, the love interest for the captain’s eldest daughter, Liesl (Stephanie Rodger). But it is the Von Trapp children (Rodger, Andrew Faria, Spencer Stanley, Grace Gilbert, Brigid Fitzgerald, Chloe Morehouse and Bobbie Doherty) who, appropriately enough, provide some the most charming musical and dramatic performances of the evening. Under the stage and musical direction of David Jepson and Stephen DeCesare, and choreographed by Lisa Clough, this septet of junior thespians truly lights up the stage and delight the audience with their smiles, timing and energy. (A second cast — Michaela Pendola, Chloe Kolbenheyer, Maria Martuscello and Elena Fusaro — of the youngest Von Trapps will alternate with the opening-night cast.) From Rodger’s defiant yet vulnerable Liesl, to Stanley’s chuckling and enthusiastic Kurt, to little Doherty’s endearing and adorable Gretl, the young cast is to be congratulated for their flawless performance.
It is never easy to take on a legendary, monumental production like “The Sound of Music” — let alone do it on a stage the size of one of the Von Trapp villa’s broom closets — but the Granite manages to pull it off somehow, inspired, perhaps, by that same hopefulness that compels the Von Trapps to “climb every mountain” and “ford every stream.”
“The Sound of Music” runs through Nov. 17 at the Granite Theatre, 1 Granite St., Westerly. For reservations, call the box office at 401-596-234 or visit granitetheatre.com.