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Queens Chronicle

Director Explores The Darker Side Of “The Sound Of Music”

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Posted: Thursday, July 26, 2001 12:00 am

Thanks to St. Gregory’s Theatre Group in Bellerose, audiences will now be able to see “The Sound of Music,” one of the most popular musicals of all time, as it has never been seen before. This new incarnation of the show, opening on August 9th for a nine-performance run, will include scenes that had been cut prior to its original Broadway engagement in 1959, as well as other changes which, in all likelihood, will prove particularly enlightening to the show’s many ardent fans.

Inspired by “The Trapp Family Singers,” the personal memoirs of Maria Augusta Trapp, the show recounts her days as a postulant in Austria’s Nonnberg Abbey, her experiences as the music-loving governess to the seven motherless children of retired naval captain Georg von Trapp, and the terrors of Nazi invasion.

The original production, with a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, was an enormous hit. It ran for 1,443 performances. Despite its undeniable popularity, the show, and its subsequent motion picture adaptation, which set box-office records upon its release in 1965, has often been criticized as too saccharin a point not lost on Lance Hewett, the director of St. Gregory’s production.

“The show was calling out for darkness,” he said. “There is so much magic and kindness, but I always felt, ‘why is there so little darkness?’”

So, with that thought in mind he went to the Philadelphia Library, where many of the now-historic Rodgers and Hammerstein materials are stored.

“The joy for me was finding out that what I wanted for the show was what Rodgers and Hammerstein had wanted,” Hewett explained.

“The research library proved to me I was on the right track.”

When the show originally opened, memories of World War II were still relatively fresh.

“People just wanted to be light-hearted and to have fun. The producers felt nobody wanted to hear about war. So many other shows had darker views and many didn’t succeed,” Hewett said.

“The serious undertones should have been acceptable,” he said. “We’re restoring original music, lyrics and dialogue as intended by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

“The ominous presence of something besides a lonely goatherd should be felt,” he said, in reference to an image used by Maria to allay the fears of the children during a frightening thunderstorm.

To that end, Hewett has made the Nazi influence much stronger, providing what he calls more “genuine emotion.” And, for the first time, Hitler’s name will be mentioned.

Hewett has also restored a scene in the nunnery, creating “a feeling that we have never left the presence of the abbey.”

Hewett has reassigned various lines throughout the script, refining and, in some cases, slightly altering relationships among characters.

He has also changed the settings for several scenes. For instance, “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” the show’s inspirational anthem, is traditionally sung by the Mother Abbess in the confines of her office as she encourages Maria to seek the life she was born to live. Now the moment takes place in the abbey garden, the symbolic mountain on view in the background for all to see.

Two songs written specifically for the film version have subsequently been interpolated into various stage productions. In this version, each will be used in a totally new context.

To prevent the show from running too long with all the additions, Hewett has eliminated, through ingenious staging, no fewer than 13 set changes.

“There will be no blackouts until the end of each act,” he said. Scenes will segue into each other, almost cinematically, through cross fades.

Heading the cast of 60 is Erin Clancy, who, according to Hewett, will play up Maria’s sexual urges, “which were very little explored in the original.” When auditioning actors for the captain’s role, Hewett looked for warmth, so the audience would not be alienated, “as they frequently can be,” and selected John DiGioia for the role, though he is quite a bit younger than the age usually cast.

Lisa Gwasda appears as Elsa, the captain’s intended, who, Hewett explained, “is almost always played like a bitch, so wrong for so many reasons. In this show, she’s being played as originally conceived—intelligent, honest, elegant and much more in love with Georg than shown previously.”

As Mother Abbess, Andria Amarosa is highlighting the character’s similarities to Maria, “both born from the basic elements of the earth,” Hewett said.

Over the years, St. Gregory’s has been known for the unusually large scope of its productions. But even the huge stage at Gregorian Hall could not accommodate Hewett’s elaborate plan, so special extensions had to be constructed.

“I love big shows in the summer,” producer Mickey Cutter said.

“They get a lot of people involved. It’s very much a family-oriented organization.”

Performances at the air-conditioned Gregorian Hall (242nd Street and 88th Avenue in Bellerose) are on August 10th, 11th, 16th, 17th and 18th at 8 p.m. and August 12th and 19th at 3 p.m.; dinner theatre performances are on August 9th and 15th at 7:30 p.m. For information, call 224-4439.

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