116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — If you think “The Sound of Music” is all raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, think again.
Director Brian Glick and company at Theatre Cedar Rapids are bringing to the surface the undercurrents swirling beneath the epic love story that dawns as Nazi power rises in Austria.
The classic musical unfolds on the Theatre Cedar Rapids stage Friday through May 29.
Glick and music director Cameron Sullenberger, co-founders and directors of Revival Theatre Company, teamed up with TCR to present “Hello, Dolly” in 2019, and two Rodgers and Hammerstein performances with Orchestra Iowa and TCR, first at the Paramount Theatre in 2015, then on the front lawn at Brucemore mansion in 2021.
What: “The Sound of Music”
Where: Theatre Cedar Rapids, 102 Third St. SE
When: April 29 to May 29, 2022; 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday; also 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. May 14
Tickets: $22 to $52, TCR Box Office, (319) 366-8591 or theatrecr.org/event/the-sound-of-music/2022-04-29/
Beneath the surface
Revival Theatre also staged Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma” at Coe College in 2019, where Glick and Sullenberger looked beyond the “beautiful morning” to find the deeper, darker messages, especially as they translate to today’s experiences.
“For me, I just look at the text,” said Glick, 35, of Cedar Rapids. “It’s like with ‘Oklahoma.’ With (Rodgers and Hammerstein), there's a lot going on in that material. It depends on how much you want to skim.
“You want to skim off the surface? OK, then you're going to get what you probably expect. You want to dig deeper into it? You're going to get something with a little more grit and depth and gravitas, when it comes to that dynamic between the characters and the story.
“I think that’s the trick with classic material. I always say this, people think because it has a pretty melody that that must be what’s going on in the story. No. The melody may be pretty, but look at the subtext — what’s the subtext saying?
“They do this song in Act 2 — ‘No Way to Stop It’ — between Max, Elsa and the Captain, and they’re saying, don’t get involved in the politics of it all. Just let it be. And it has this upbeat kind of melody to it, and you could easily approach it that way,” Glick said.
“They’re talking about serious things. That’s the thing with Rodgers and Hammerstein. … My approach to this show was, there is something coming. There is this undertone throughout the whole show. The captain alludes to it. Max keeps getting telegrams and phone calls. Rolf goes from this teen, a very influenced kind of boy, to the second time he shows up to the house, he does a heil (Nazi salute).
“It is a slow progression. And you could easily just kind of gloss right over it. So what I like to do is that, well, that’s there for a reason. Do you see that? Let’s isolate this.
“It’s all there in the text. It just depends on how much you want to work at it.
“It’s not to say that when the moment which is supposed to be beautiful and lovely and funny and joyous, that we don’t do that. In fact, because we go to the ugly places, it makes those moments much more heightened, because it reminds us how important they are to each other — the love between them.
“That last scene, where they're hiding out and they’re trying to escape — the stakes are so high for that moment, and those kids escaping over the mountain — look what’s going on in the world right now,” Glick said.
“It shows how much heart and how smart they were, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and I’ve seen that with ‘Oklahoma,’ too.”
He’s quick to point out that he’s made a few revisions, to make the show work better for today’s audiences. The most notable was casting a Maria and Captain Von Trapp who are closer in age, instead of having a 20 year-old woman falling in love with a man approaching 50.
“We’re living in a different time, and the thing is, that ship has sailed,” Glick said.
The actors involved are just fine with that.
“Initially, I was surprised that they cast me because I thought I was too old to play this part,” said Stephanie Hoklotubbe, 39, of Mount Vernon, who plays Maria. “But now I agree that it makes a lot more sense. It just feels more comfortable and right to have our ages more close. I think it works.”
“It definitely would be a different vibe,” said Joe Wetrich, 49, of Cedar Rapids, who plays Captain Von Trapp.
“They’re equals, like in the end, when they have to leave and they have to make these big decisions,” Hoklotubbe said. “He’s relying on her and she’s being the strong one. And I think it just makes more sense that she’s not this young, naive girl, you know? I’m a grown woman and I’ve lived a little bit.”
“They’ve offered me a command in their navy and they want to take me away, and we can’t just brush this aside,” Wetrich said. “It would be nice to have that, but it would also be nice to know that you, too, are safe, but that also means that I have to leave. ‘Help me’ is one of the lines. ‘Help me, please help me, Maria.’ There’s many times in the second act where she’s the strong one.”
Diving below the surface paints different views of their personalities, the actors add. Maria traditionally is portrayed as young and bubbly, loving music and playful adventure, while the captain is stoic and militaristic and withdrawn from his children. But with the deeper work director Glick is seeking, more layers emerge.
The free-spirited Maria is trying desperately to find where she fits in the world, Hoklotubbe said, but as much as she loves God and wants to succeed as a nun, it’s just not working. The Mother Abbess sees this and encourages her to go find what is right for her. Sent to be a governess for the Von Trapp children, she bonds and falls in love first with them, and then with their father.
“And that is terrifying to her,” Hoklotubbe said, leading Maria to grapple with strong, conflicting emotions.
Meanwhile, the Captain is heartbroken over the loss of his wife, and now is left with how to raise seven children that remind him so much of her, Wetrich said.
“How does he navigate all this? It's not that he doesn't love them, but the only way he knows — that’s kind of his mask or his wall — is to go back to being a captain.”
Even though he and Maria butt heads, the Captain sees how much the children love her, and he begins to soften, Wetrich said.
“The scene when his walls come down and music kind of brings the family back together is so beautiful,” Hoklotubbe added. “I can’t wait for people to see it. It makes me cry every time.”
Both actors, who are parents in real life and work in school settings, are enjoying building relationships with the children — and not just seven, but 13, since all the roles except Liesl have been double cast. That’s a twofold decision, Glick noted. If one child gets ill, the other one sharing that role can step in. Also, with so many performances, having two kid casts helps guard against them getting too worn out.
Glick’s goal is to take a story people think they know so well — since it airs every year on television and has been staged in so many high schools and community theaters — and give audiences enough newness to keep them engaged.
“There’s been a lot of thought and careful attention to bring the heart out that’s in this show and the depth, and what’s going on in the world around them,” Glick said. “It’s not just going to be song and dance. I think the story will intrigue. The dynamics between the actors, their characters will keep the adults (in the audience) interested and the music will keep the kids’ attention, and equally both in that regard.
“I don't think (audiences) should assume anything. They can assume the story. They can assume the songs they know, but don’t assume that it’s going to be something that if you drag your husband to, they’re going to fall asleep. I don’t think they’re going to do that,” Glick said. “I think they’re going to be completely engaged the whole time.
“And that’s the goal — to make it make a piece that’s 50-plus years old feel like it was written today.”
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