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A Fresh Look

Beloved musical both traditional, contemporary

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Photographs by Photo courtesy Matthew Murphy

Mike McLean (center) portrays Captain Georg von Trapp in “The Sound of Music.” The current touring production is the original Broadway version, which debuted in 1959 and differs slightly from the Julie Andrews film. “[It’s] a story everybody knows, and they’ve seen the movie 100,000 times,” McLean says. “If you come see our show, you’re going to see something new in the show. It is slightly different. But don’t worry, we still escape the Nazis.”

Picture, if you will, Rodgers and Hammerstein's beloved "The Sound of Music" -- film or stage version. What are some of the first things that come to mind? Likely images and musical moments centered around Maria -- Julie Andrews twirling on the mountaintop before sweeping Austrian vistas, the list of Maria's favorite things, the nuns airily wondering how to solve a problem like their youngest member -- the seven von Trapp children, or the political and cultural unease of the Nazis' impending rise to power.

Yet one of the pivotal characters of the story is oft-overlooked. Captain Georg von Trapp is cold, rigid and tough on his children when we first meet him. But as Maria and her charges remind him of the power and beauty of music, they finally melt his heart -- providing the emotional crux of the show and possibly the most compelling character arc of the story.

FAQ

‘The Sound of Music’

WHEN — 7 p.m. May 15-16; 1:30 & 7 p.m. May 17; 8 p.m. May 18; 2 & 8 p.m. May 19; 2 p.m. May 20

WHERE — Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville

COST — $36-$85

INFO — 443-5600, waltonartscenter.org

"This is the best role I've ever had the pleasure of performing as an actor because of that part," says actor Mike McLean of the change we see in the Captain. "There is this dichotomy of he's so hard and stern in the beginning, but that is coming from a place of deep, deep pain. He lost his wife ... and his only way of dealing with that is putting this military structure into the home. That makes him feel safe. [And] probably the most painful thing about him in the beginning is that he won't allow music in the house ... because it's just going to hurt too much -- there's going to be this feeling of loss."

Maybe McLean is a little biased because he's the one who gets to perform it, but he admits his favorite moment in the show is when the Captain truly sees his children again, thanks to the music. He's overcome and, for the first time in a very long time, joins his family in singing.

"The lesson this journey has taught me as a person is don't let things fester," McLean shares. "Don't let a problem build and build and build, and it becomes your whole relationship with somebody, because you never know how long you're going to have that person around or be able to say what you want to say to [them]. So stand up for what you believe in and don't be afraid to talk about it."

Adult themes like this present in the material are at the same time more nuanced and more accentuated on the stage than they were in the famed 1965 film, McLean divulges.

"So it's not all singing nuns and cute children -- although we have cute children and lovely singing nuns," he says. "Maria really finds herself; she thinks she's going to be a nun, and then all of a sudden she finds herself falling for this man and his family, and she has to deal with that big shift in her purpose in her life. The Captain is this very hurt individual at the beginning of the show ... and then Maria brings ... this joy and appreciation for music back into his life. And then of course they all have to escape -- they have to figure out that they're not going to just let this evil presence take over their life."

Some of that nuance, McLean points out, will come by way of songs in different places than in the film, or songs that were cut from the film altogether. In particular, the growing Nazi power and presence and its effect on the Austrian people is felt more deeply on the stage as Captain von Trapp decides he cannot sit idly by while what he perceives to be an evil force takes over.

"I've heard people talk about they definitely feel this offstage character that is Germany in 1938 coming into Austria," McLean says. The circumstances the von Trapps are faced with and the resulting messages surrounding them can be interpreted in different ways as far as their relevance to the present. But whatever the takeaway, McLean hopes the material speaks for itself. "I think it's important in our country right now to have the hard conversations. And have an intelligent conversation. If you believe strongly in something, don't be afraid to talk about it."

NAN What's Up on 05/13/2018

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