For his first summer production since 2020, Shasta College Theatre Arts instructor Gregory Thorson wanted to stage something substantial.
With a 40-person cast, a 35-member orchestra and a 30-member chorus, suffice to say he found what he was looking for with “The Sound of Music.”
“I wanted something family-friendly that could draw large crowds back to the theater, since we’re still crawling out of the pandemic,” said Thorson, who also appreciates the academic and artistic heft of the 64-year-old musical.
“This was the final Rodgers & Hammerstein collaboration that started with ‘Oklahoma.’ It really shows the maturity. These are masters of their craft,” Thorson said. “I was looking for something substantial that holds a semester’s worth of work.
“The libretto is strong, three-quarters of the songs are classics. I’m presently surprised at the power and depth of it. I hadn’t watched the movie since I was a kid. It’s very sophisticated. This is a masterpiece of this important American style of art.”
“The Sound of Music” tells the story of Maria, a young postulant at Nonnberg Abbey who is sent to serve as a governess for the seven children of Capt. Georg von Trapp, a retired Austrian naval officer and widower. The story is set in the 1930s, shortly before Third Reich troops marched into Austria to annex the country for Nazi Germany.
The themes of antisemitism and white supremacy in the musical resonate today, Thorson said. “Part of what makes plays and musicals great are the stakes involved. The Nazi (occupation) is what makes the stakes so great. This musical is still relevant.”
With classics like “Do-Re-Mi,” “My Favorite Things,” “Edelweiss” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” music also is relevant in “The Sound of Music.” To bring the score to life, music director and conductor Jeff Specht has assembled a 35-piece orchestra from musicians in the Shasta Symphony Orchestra and the 30-member nun chorus.
“It’s a really special sound and feeling and atmosphere that that creates,” Thorson said. “It will be a unique performance.”
The music inspired Burney optometrist Henry Patterson to successfully audition for the role of Capt. von Trapp. “It’s a fantastic musical and I love it. I’m so grateful to be with such a talented group of actors and singers,” said Patterson, who sang with the elite BYU Singers while earning a degree in music at Brigham Young University.
Not surprisingly, Patterson said he’s stunned by David Fraser’s “fantastic” set design and can’t wait for audiences to hear the chorus. “They’re singing all around you in the audience it’s just glorious.”
Patterson said he’s enjoyed exploring the role of the stoic captain. “He lost his wife, the mother of all these children. He puts on a front of ‘let’s hide behind me as being a captain’ but he misses his wife. It’s fun playing him because he’s a stronger, more powerful character than I am in in real life.”
Patterson said he’s extremely appreciative of the support he’s received from his co-star, Vanessa Davis-Sanchez, who plays Maria. “I’ve been getting support from every cast member and especially Vanessa. She’s very good to work with, and Carolyn Murray, who does the stage managing.”
Others in the large cast include Gwen Rooker as the Mother Abbess and Jocelyn Olson, a vocal instructor who encouraged Patterson to audition, who has been cast as Sister Margaretta.
In addition to sets by Fraser, the Shasta College Theatre’s A-team of backstage professionals includes costumes by Hilary Fahey; makeup by Mat McDonald; and choreography by Diana Christensen.
“The Sound of Music” opens at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 13, in the Shasta College Theatre, with evening performances July 14-15 and 20-22. 2 p.m. matinee performances are scheduled for Sunday, July 16, and July 23. Tickets are $20, adults; $15, seniors 65 and older, faculty and staff; $10, students. For more information, visit www.shastacollege.edu/events/