Utah Valley University and Sundance Mountain Resort Present The Sound of Music July 22, 2023
Reviewed by Kevin Rolfe
Is there a better setting outside Austria to see The Sound of Music than the Outdoor Amphitheater at Sundance Mountain Resort? I can’t imagine there is. The setting was so perfect for the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic. With tree-lined mountains as its backdrop, there was very little need for elaborate set design. These hills, if I may, did come alive as the focal setpiece to make this musical visually soar. The mountain air was crisp and cool. A welcome escape from the blistering hot summer day down in the valley.
The partnership of Utah Valley University and Sundance Mountain Resort has been a successful one. With successful productions like Oklahoma! and Mamma Mia in recent years, it’s no surprise that patrons continue to return to the resort to see quality theater. And while there are many musicals to choose from, it makes perfect sense that they would bring back another production of The Sound of Music. The audience called for it, and I couldn’t have been happier to attend the Saturday Evening performance on Jul 22, 2023.
The tricky thing about putting on a production of The Sound of Music is that the movie is iconic. Julie Andrews will always be at the forefront of everyone’s mind when they think of Maria. And Christopher Plummer will for sure be the staple of what people envision when they refer to Captain Von Trapp. I know that movie forward and backward. I know every lyric, I know all the scenes. I’ve seen that movie countless times. And I’d imagine the same goes for everyone who is a fan of the musical.
In a way, it’s almost unfair to the cast to go into a performance with that potentially in the back of their minds. How could it not be? I’ve seen performances of The Sound of Music where they tried too hard to be different and tried too hard to mimic the movie too closely. I felt like this production found the sweet spot. There was enough familiarity to feel comfortable, yet I thought some of the original and creative ideas by director Julie Heaton were fresh and engaging.
If you’re going to see a stage version of The Sound of Music, it’s good to remember that it’s not exactly like the movie. There are a couple of duets with the Baroness and Max that are not in the movie. The songs are a lot of fun and make sense for the stage but I can see why they were cut for the movie. Some of the familiar songs are in a different place in the stage version. It’s nothing to be disappointed over, just something to be aware of.
The entire ensemble was strong. In particular, the nuns were a favorite of mine. They were funny, heartfelt, and their harmonies were amazing to hear as their voices rang throughout the trees and the mountains. Lauren Slagowski as Mother Abess not only brought the house down with her performance of “Climb Every Mountain” but her scenes when counseling Maria were warm.
In my opinion, this musical completely rests on the shoulders of one character. Maria Rainer, or Frioiliegn Maria, played by Lauren Pope. Again, what a daunting task to take on a role played so iconically by Julie Andrews. Pope did a remarkable job making the character her own. I never once felt like she was trying to fill anyone else’s shoes. I was drawn in by the sincerity of her performance. Her voice was beautiful, her comedic timing was excellent, and both her chemistry with the children and the captain felt genuine.
There are two scenes in particular that dictate the success of a production of The Sound of Music. The first one is “Do-Re-Mi”. This is a vital scene to display the growing connection between Maria and the seven Von Trapp children. Having not seen a single rehearsal of this production, I feel confident in believing that this cast of children and Lauren Pope bonded off-stage which then created an undeniable chemistry onstage. I loved this number and it did exactly what it was supposed to do. It endeared us to the relationship between Maria and the Von Trapp children.
The second crucial scene is during the formal party for Baroness Elsa Schraeder (played so cunningly by Merci Hase) near the end of act one. Maria is trying to show the boy Kurt a dance that the adults were doing inside. A dance she learned as a child. When Kurt clumsily struggles to learn the dance, Captain Von Trapp steps in and does the dance with Maria. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie, and it was one of the best scenes in this production. There is very little dialogue. It’s the music, the dance, the looks, and the connection all gel into one moment where we see that Von Trapp and Maria are falling for one another. The scene was wonderfully acted, and again this audience was drawn into the moment. Following that scene, we’re all in for them being together.
In my experience, you never know quite what you’ll get with young actors. It’s not their fault. They’re young and still learning. Part of the learning is in their performance. However, I felt like these seven actors were the best children I’ve seen in a production of The Sound of Music. Starting from the top with the eldest sister, Liesl played by Mariel Haven. Her performance altogether was so charming. I particularly enjoyed her performance with Isaac Gates in “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”. I thought their performance was fun and sweet. It was perfectly choreographed to show not only show off their talents as dancers but allowed them to use the space on the stage. I looked around the audience during this number and could see smile after smile lining the amphitheater rows.
Each of the children brought a lot of personality to their character. Something I enjoy is watching the “bits of business” actors will be up to when they’re not in the forefront. The subtle conversations or games they’ll play fill up the stage but also make it worth it to look around at other actors, not just the ones singing or talking.
I was excited to see Dallyn Vail Bayles in the role of Captain Von Trapp. Dallyn has played the role of the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera, performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City, along with many other great roles and venues around the country and internationally. I had the opportunity to see him at one of the first concerts following the pandemic at Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City in a concert celebrating the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
I thought he was a very interesting Captain Von Trapp. Interesting in that he had a take on the role that I hadn’t seen before. I enjoyed it. Captain Von Trapp is a role with a wide character arc. It can be easy to settle into the main points of what is happening with the character and act it out in a generic way. I felt like Dallyn found slight ways to give us an original take on the Captain, and I really enjoyed it. Of course, his voice was a hit with the audience and I would guess they felt as I did in wishing he had more songs to be featured in.
Following the show we got our own interactive experience. Having just watched the Von Trapp Family begin to climb the Swiss Alps away from the Nazis, I then had my chance to “Climb Every Mountain” to my car. I think something needs to be done about this. It wasn’t that bad. But I don’t think theatergoers are always going to be looking for a hike following the show. I mean that hill was straight up! But it was good because now I know what the Von Trapps went through. Ok maybe not, but still!
This production of The Sound of Music was excellent. From the principal characters to the ensemble this was a strong cast. I’m glad they brought it back this summer. It will be difficult to refrain from doing it again soon. This show just fits these mountains and this amphitheater so well.