St. Dunstan’s Theatre is Alive With ‘The Sound of Music’

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I cut my theater teeth on The Sound of Music when I was a young boy. Granted, it wasn’t a live performance of the Rogers and Hammerstein musical, or the 1965 film starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, but it is where my love for the craft began. The Sound of Music is one of those stories that I watch multiple times a year with my mother, with both of us being able to recite it word for word. It’s become an integral cornerstone of my personality, ultimately leading to where I am today as a theater critic. So when St. Dunstan’s Theatre, located in Bloomfield Hills, announced they were putting on their own version of The Sound of Music, my friend RJ Miller-Zelinko knew we had to go see it.

Who was I to argue about seeing one of my favorite musicals live for the first time? I jumped at the opportunity to expand Cosmic Circus Broadway into the community theatre realm.  While this isn’t the first time that RJ and I have been to a community performance, with the other half of Box Seat Babes having grown up in the world of theatre thanks to his mother, this is a big step towards something new for the Cosmic Circus brand.

St. Dunstan’s Theatre’s The Sound of Music is adapted for their outdoor Greek theatre but keeps the work of Rogers and Hammerstein, along with the book by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse, very much intact. Directed by Jeff Davison, with Matt Horn and Angela VanKempen serving as Musical Director and Assistant Director/Choreographer, respectively. With an impressive cast led by Lindsey Brenz in the role of Maria and Craig Van Kempen as the surly Captain Von Trapp, this version of The Sound of Music hopes to prove that the hills are indeed alive and the perfect escape for families of all ages to enjoy. Continue on to learn more about St. Dunstan’s production of The Sound of Music.

[Warning: spoilers from St. Dunstan’s performance of The Sound of Music are below!]

Solving a problem like Maria takes drastic measures in this Rogers and Hammerstein musical

Having grown up in the mountains of Salzburg Austria, Maria (Brenz) and often ventured down to the Abbey to gaze fondly upon the nuns who lived there and tended to the garden. It became her life mission to join the nunnery, currently serving as a postulant when we meet her in the opening act, and give her life to God; however, in doing so, there are many rules that she struggles with. Singing is the biggest one, as Maria can’t seem to stop singing when she is explicitly asked not to. That being said, she isn’t an unpleasant person to be around, at least for some of the nuns and the Mother Abbess herself.

Through a bit of a back and forth between those in the Abbey who love and despise her (“How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria”), the Mother Abbess (Charlotte Marjorie) comes to the conclusion that the way to solve a problem like Maria isn’t as easy as punishment and reward. Instead, she determines that Maria should go off on an adventure of her own, thus learning where her place in the world, and the Abbey for that matter, is.

The Sound of Music
Promotional Photo from St. Dunstan’s Theatre’s production of The Sound of Music

Maria is hesitant to become the governess for Captain Georg Von Trapp’s (Van Kempen) seven children- Liesl (Ashlynn Irvine), Freidrich (Noah Galle), Louisa (Peri Rossi), Kurt (Nate Moutzouros), Brigitta (Melody Goodman), Marta (Emmeline Gamarra) and Gretl (Cecily Gamarra). However, when she arrives at the estate, it quickly becomes clear why she is there and what purpose she can serve.

The children are in need of someone to love them. There’s no doubt that the captain cares about his children, but since his wife passed away, he has become a shell of his former self. He runs his house like he’s still aboard a naval ship, and the children are his officers to command. Each child acts out in their own way, practically begging their father to notice them but to no avail. He’s too preoccupied with Baroness Schraeder (Natalie Erskine), who is destined to be their new mother, and the brewing war facing Austria with the growing German power.

Through Maria, the children learn about the importance of self-expression, particularly through music, which changes the trajectory of the family. Life is breathed back into them, pushing the unit closer. What she wasn’t expecting, though, was her growing feelings for the Captain himself. In what becomes one of the greatest romances of all time, Maria must learn her place in the world and how love and service to God can take on many different forms if only she remains open to the possibilities.

An impressive cast brings The Sound of Music to life

Of any production that we review at Cosmic Circus Broadway, one of the most important aspects is the actors who bring the show to life on stage. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the set design is or how impressive the costumes are, if the people who are inhabiting the characters aren’t making magic, then it’s hard to get absorbed into the story. This wasn’t a problem with St. Dunsten’s production, as most of the cast were impeccable choices by those who made those decisions.

Starting the show off strong was the impressive cast of characters at the nunnery, specifically the Mother Abbess and the three nuns who have larger speaking roles: Sister Berthe (Deb Dworkin), Sister Margaretta (Kimberly Paulin), and Sister Sophia (Celeste Blanch). The three sisters were particularly well done, bringing a significant amount of comedy to the scenes set in the Abbey. These three roles were always a favorite of mine in the film, and it was clear that Dworkin, Paulin, and Blanch understood their roles and executed them spectacularly.

The Sound of Music 2
Picture of the Cast of St. Dunstan’s Theatre production of The Sound of Music.

Of the roles outside the Abbey, I found myself most impressed with Natalie Erskine’s take on Baroness Elsa Schraeder. Watching the musical when I was younger, it’s apparent that the Baroness is intended to be a villainous foil to the sweet yet naive Maria. However, when you grow older you come to understand that she isn’t the villain, but just another woman stuck in a broken system. At the time in which The Sound of Music is set, women were seen to only have value in their roles as mothers and wives. The Baroness is already a maverick in her own right, being in charge of her own company, which is seen as wrong by those around her.

There’s a dichotomy that exists in the Baroness, wanting to be seen as valid for what she already has but also to fit societal norms and have a husband. So naturally, she is in opposition to Maria, as the nun-in-training is a direct threat. This duality is showcased perfectly in Erskine’s performance, who is one of the shining stars of this production of The Sound of Music. With superb vocals that brought down the house and a level of acting that stands out amongst the rest of the cast, Erskine’s one of the definite reasons to see this production.

The entire Von Trapp family is also incredibly strong, both in their acting and singing. Some actors felt more natural on stage than others, but the variance between them was negligent when the entire show was strong.

St. Dunstan’s The Sound of Music sets the bar high for community theatre

Overall, St. Dunstan’s The Sound of Music is an excellent night for outdoor theatre, which is something everyone should experience once in their life. It was a transportive one-of-a-kind experience for those present, as how many times can you say you’ve seen a play in a Greek theater? If you’re living in Michigan, then you should definitely check out one of the many stellar productions from St. Dunstan’s Theatre.

Check out St. Dunstan’s Theatre’s upcoming productions here. Find @mycosmiccircus and @boxseatbabes on social media and let us what some of your favorite community theatre productions are!

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Brian Kitson

Working hard to bring you the latest news and thoughtful analysis of all things nerdy!

Brian Kitson has 35 posts and counting. See all posts by Brian Kitson