No matter how many times you’ve seen the movie or the musical, the latest stage revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music” promises to take the audience in new directions, with the power of the story emphasized.
“It’s no longer your mother’s familiar ‘Sound of Music,’” said director Jack O’Brien, a three-time Tony winner who looked at it more closely and brought out the drama for the national tour. “We are tearing off the varnish of the past from one of the great glories of our theatergoing experience and making it fresh,”
Broadway veteran Ben Davis, who plays Captain Georg Von Trapp, said the result is a deeper, richer and more powerful show.
“I love the story. I love how the character grows in the show, and I wanted to work with Jack O’Brien,” Davis said during a phone interview. “I knew he would bring out the best in the cast and take a new look at the show.”
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Because the show is set in 1938 in Austria, when Hitler was expanding his Third Reich across borders, and the Nazis threatened to overtake the country, Davis said O’Brien has emphasized the impending peril.
“He’s underlined what was taking place. He’s given it a sense of urgency,” he said. “He has improved upon it, making it a lot more adult, with a stronger political tone, darker elements. There is so much more to ‘The Sound of Music’,” he said.
“These are real people dealing with real events, and it was very traumatic for them. They have established roots, and it’s stressful,” he said. “We get into the intrigue, and it’s fantastic.”
Davis knows the show’s big draw is the music, with such classics as “Edelweiss,” “My Favorite Things,” “Maria,” “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” and “Do Re Mi.”
To sing them is an opportunity to re-engage the audience in one of America’s most beloved scores.
“These are great songs, and everyone knows them so well,” he said. “It is the music you know and love. We’ve just taken a fresh approach.”
Davis, who has become a Muny favorite in recent years, having appeared as Curly in “Oklahoma” and Emile in “South Pacific,” took on another Rodgers and Hammerstein iconic role for the chance to work with O’Brien.
Newcomer Kerstin Anderson is Maria, and was plucked from college after an extensive search for a fresh-faced unknown.
O’Brien, who had seen Mary Martin in the original Broadway production, wanted someone new for the role.
“In reading it privately, something caught my eye: Maria is probably, as a postulant, no more than six or seven years older than Liesl! She may be many things — a country lass, a climber-of-trees, a young renegade, but she is clearly not an established star!” he said.
“I’ve always believed Maria was a “star-making” part, rather than the leading role we remember from the movies — so I went looking for someone with star-making magic. And in through the audition door one day walked Kerstin Anderson, still studying at Pace University in New York. She opened her mouth, she sang and the tears welled up in my eyes. If ever there were an enchanting young woman standing on the brink of discovery — this was it!” O’Brien said.
Davis said he is fortunate to work with her. “At 21, she is preternaturally wise,” he said.
The cast also includes Maria Knasel of St. Louis as Louisa Von Trapp. She has appeared at the Muny and Stages St. Louis, and in the national tours of ‘White Christmas” and “A Christmas Story.”
“I love Maria – she’s a sweetheart,” Davis said.
Because of the national tour, he won’t be performing at the Muny this summer, but is a big fan of the outdoor theater and St. Louis in general.
“I love the Muny. I love performing there, and they are so supportive of the artists. I love Forest Park, the Central West End,” he said. “St. Louis has an amazing theater community. The fans are very knowledgeable, and love theater, and it’s generational. I think the Muny has a lot to do with that — families going and people’s first experience of theater there.”
Davis vows to return one day.
He is also excited to return to the Fox. “It’s one of my favorite places to play,” he said.
Davis grew up in Indianapolis playing sports, and didn’t discover musical theater until high school. He put his dreams aside to work as a stockbroker after college. But fate stepped in, and his rich baritone has been heard around the world.
“I’ve been very fortunate. I am really blessed to work with such great directors and performers. I’ve learned so much from them,” he said.
On Broadway, he starred as the Preacher opposite Sutton Foster in “Violet” in 2014, and joined the cast of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” as Trevor Graydon later during its run. He replaced Mr. Lindquist in the 2009-2011 revival of “A Little Night Music.”
In the 2006 revival of “Les Miserables,” he was Javert, but had played Enjolras previously, also in a national tour.
He was in Baz Luhrmann’s “La Boheme” in 2003, which was honored with a Tony for excellence in theater.
He also toured nationally in “Spamalot” as Galahad, a role he played in the Muny premiere in 2013.
That production was marked by an opening night deluge, and thunderstorms for days beforehand, which hurt the rehearsal process.
“It was a lot of fun, but we were flying by the seat of our pants. We couldn’t rehearse,” he said, laughing.
He signed on for the current national tour for a year, which will end in September. Touring is a nomadic existence, but worth it for a different perspective, he said.
He is pleased with how audiences have embraced the show, for it gives them something they didn’t expect. “The melodies they know and love are comforting, and the artists are able to put their stamp on them.”
“The Sound of Music”
- When: April 26-May 8
- Where: The Fox Theatre, 527 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis
- Metrotix: 314-534-1111