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I want to tell you about something sublime.
Nestled in a valley at the foot of the Alps is a little community theatre, at which wonderful things sometimes happen. That would be the Trinity Alps, not the Swiss Alps, and the theatre is the Trinity Alps Performing Arts Center. One of those wonderful things is happening right now.
On Saturday night, Darlene and I drove into Weaverville to hear The Sound of Music (set in the Austrian Alps.) We expected to see a good local production of the old Rogers and Hammerstein classic. Boy, we were surprised! More than pleasantly surprised. Exuberantly surprised! Shortly after the first musical number, Darlene turned to me and asked, “Where did they find these people?”
“Hyampom, Hayfork, Junction City, Douglas City, Redding and Weaverville.” I read it from the playbill.
“Wow! All local people. I can’t believe it.”
So that is our opinion, which is not completely uninformed. As some of you readers know, Darlene and I get out to listen to a fair amount of music, and make a little, ourselves. If what we heard last night was just good, I would not be writing this.
You know these songs. They are part of our cultural heritage. The hills are alive . . . Doe, a deer, a female deer . . . I am 16, going on 17 . . . Edelweiss, edelweiss, every morning you greet me . . . These are a few of my favorite things. . .
And Climb Every Mountain. Well! More on that later.
This production is great, and I do not mean by the standards of a small community playhouse. I mean great by any standards. So, here is the part of superlatives:
Shanna Franceshini as Maria is perfect. If you think Julie Andrews closed the book on these songs, you are wrong. Mrs. Franceshini can sing! High and clear and sweet and pure, she is a delight to hear. Also, she is lovely, and a fine actress. Sparklingly delightful in the lead role.
Her real-life husband, David Franceshini, plays Captain Von Trapp. His commanding presence and unyielding moral rectitude drive the plot. It is hard to imagine better casting for the role, or a better job performing it. Not only that, but he has a rather nice baritone voice, and holds up his end of the singing.
Seven children, ranging in age from 16 down to 5. Seven children! And every single one of them knew their lines perfectly, and hit their marks in the production numbers. That alone should win the director, Jay Underwood, some kind of award. As to production numbers, I think my favorite was when the children all come to Maria’s bed in the thunderstorm, and she distracts them with “The Lonely Goatherd.” Quite a remarkable performance.
Veronica Kelley-Albiez plays the Mother Abbess. Oh, my, she is good! Some things have to be heard live for the full impact.
The supporting cast ranges from good to excellent. Of particular note are the three subordinate nuns, the abbess’ assistants. (How do you solve a problem like Maria?) Delightful.
The set. You get so used to minimalist sets these days! Throw a few boxes together and ask the audience to imagine them as a staircase. This program is not like that. These are great sets, brilliantly conceived and beautifully executed. In particular, the big room of the mansion is ornate, grand, and lovely. I take my hat off to the production crew, the men and women who built the sets and do the set changes, behind the curtain, unseen.
No one will doubt that this musical is worth the $10 admission fee. But is it really worth the drive from Redding? An hour to Weaverville, then an hour back? In my opinion, the closing number of the first act, “Climb Every Mountain,” is worth it, alone. This is a duet between Maria and the Mother Abbess. I have told you what a fine singer Maria is, and it is true. However, when the Mother Abbess hit The Note at the end of the number, it made my scalp tingle. Darlene did not have the same reaction. She said it sent shivers all thru her body. You could see the Abbess reach down inside herself for the breath and the strength, then she just opened it up, let it out, and filled the room with resonance. Like I said, some things cannot be recorded. They have to be experienced live.
Is it worth the ride? If you like theatre and musicals, it sure as hell is! If you need any better tribute, you should know that we hope to get back to see it again before it closes, on Dec. 1, if we can.
Here is a link to the website: http://www.tapaconline.org/