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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Sound of Music’ warms Abrams

The community’s troupe succeeds with the famed, large musical.

ABRAMS, Wis., (WFRV) – Maple Street is alive with “The Sound of Music” these days. Abrams Spotlight Productions has a lively, enthusiastic production of the classic musical running through Dec. 15. Info: www.abramsspotlightproductions.com.

Saturday afternoon’s performance earned a standing ovation from a near full house.

It was my first time at The Byng Community Theater for a show by Abrams Spotlight Productions. I was struck by pride.

The theater is its 27th production in 10 years. Clearly, the theater has something going on that’s important to the community that’s approximately 25 miles north of Green Bay. The printed program is GIANT by most theater’s standards – 8½ by 11 inches and 32 pages stuffed with information and ads. The program alone says the theater is important in Abrams.

“The Sound of Music” is a big show for a community theater to take on. The musical is three hours long, with a large cast and demanding singing/acting requirements and multiple sets and plenty of costuming needs and, and, and… In the cold world of theater at large – where folks are fussy about logistics, acting execution and casting fits – it is maybe a 3 stars out of 5 production. In the warm world of Abrams, it is more like 4½ stars out of 5 – very, very good. I liked it.

Cast

Maria Rainer, Megan Sopata

Mother Abbess/Party Guest, Mary Jo Schoenfeld

Sister Berthe/Baroness Elberfeld, Elizabeth Jolly

Sister Margaretta/Party Guest, Peggy Sopata

Sister Sophia/Party Guest, Karen Fuller

Captain Georg von Trapp, Michael Brunner

Franz, David Woosencraft

Nun/Frau Schmidt, Mary Madsen

Liesl von Trapp, Faith Fuller

Friedrich von Trapp, Lucien Petit

Louisa von Trapp, Ellie Sopata

Kurt von Trapp, Breanna Duncan

Brigitta von Trapp, Eleanor Finger

Marta von Trapp, Olivia Shelly

Gretl von Trapp, McKenna Seidl

Rolf Gruber, Gus Kroenke

Nun/Elsa Schraeder, Ali Carlson

Nun/Ursula/Party Guest, Ashley Keuken

Max Detweiler, Early Fuller

Herr Zeller, David Jolly

Frau Zeller/Postulant/Festival Contestant, Niki Petit

Baron Elberfield/Festival Contestant, Bill Koehne

Admiral von Schreiber/Festival Contestant, Dominic Petit

Party Guest/Festival Contestant, Jordan Madsen

The songs

“Morning Hymn/Alleluia,” Nuns

“The Sound of Music,” Maria

“Maria,” Sisters Berthe, Sophia, Margaretta, Mother Abbess, Nuns

“My Favorite Things,” Maria, Mother Abbess

“I Have Confidence,” Maria

“Do-Re-Mi,” Maria, the Children

“Sixteen Going On Seventeen,” Rolf, Liesl

“The Lonely Goatherd,” Maria, the Children

“The Lonely Goatherd” (Reprise), Gretl

“How Can Love Survive,” Max, Elsa, Captain von Trapp

“The Sound of Music” (Reprise), the Children, Captain von Trapp

“Grand Waltz,” instrumental

“Landler,” instrumental

“So Long, Farewell,” the Children

“Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” Mother Abbess

“The Sound of Music” (Reprise), the Children, Captain von Trapp

“My Favorite Things” (Reprise), the Children, Maria

“No Way to Stop It,” Elsa, Max, Captain von Trapp

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” Nuns

“Sixteen Going On Seventeen” (Reprise), Maria, Liesl

“Do-Re-Mi” (Reprise), the Children, Maria, Captain von Trapp

“Edelweiss,” Captain von Trapp, Maria, the Children

“So Long, Farewell” (Reprise), Maria, Captain von Trapp, the Children

“Finale Ultimo: Climb Ev’ry Mountain” (Reprise), Mother Abbess, Full Cast

Key credits

Creators: Richard Rodgers (music), Oscar Hammerstein II (lyrics), Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse (book). Brandon Byng, musical director; Debra Jolly, assistant director, choreographer, lighting technician; Bob Anderson, set construction; Cheryl Folkerts, Barb Leo, scenery painting; Elizabeth Jolly, Debra Jolly, Mary Jo Schoenfeld, costumes.

Music director and troupe leader Brandon Byng sits in the front row at a lighted musical score to conduct. The music is on a soundtrack, but he keeps time with a baton and with his left hand cues singers at key moments. The show runs smoothly with that system.

Byng’s looooong program notes reveal his passion for what he’s doing with the theater that’s outside of his day job in banking. His program notes drift comically: “Well good you read this far, you are almost done, keep going.” They also are warm hearted, as with a remembrance of “a good friend to our theater, Karen Townsend,” who died a month ago and to whom the production of “The Sound of Music” is dedicated.

Incidental things that caught my attention included a beautiful Alpine vista in a backdrop and the man playing the chief Nazi in the show making sure that Nazi was definitely, loudly EVIL.

A big thing that caught my attention was the voice Megan Sopata, playing Maria, the central character. Her voice is reminiscent of Jeanette McDonald’s – pretty, lilting, feathery, with a light timbre in the upper range, where it is practically all the time. Jeanette McDonald was a famous singer in the 1930s, particularly in romantic movies singing opposite Nelson Eddy. Hearing her style of voice in real life – springing naturally from Megan Sopata – was fascinating for me. I’ve been to a lot of shows, and I don’t recall hearing any other like it.

Also catching my attention were the children playing the seven Von Trapp children. In production after production, audiences love them. This production, too. The ingredients are just right – their story, the Rodgers and Hammerstein songs, their individual personalities – that kids can tap into them and click with audiences. And to think their story is from real life, too – that adds to the fascination.

VENUE: The 250-seat Byng Community Theater is located in the former St. Louis Catholic Church. Seating is in padded wooden pews. Roman arched windows from the former church are covered. Wooden walls and the ceiling panels made of compressed cardboard are painted white, with geometric decorations. The acoustics are such that “The Sound of Music” is performed without a microphone system for the singers. In the back of the theater is a concession area that serves pop, popcorn, candy and light alcoholic beverages that may be consumed in the theater. Non-flash photography is allowed during performances.

THE PEOPLE: The theater was founded by troupe president Brandon Byng and his great-aunt, Nancy Byng, who died in 2011. Along with coming Abrams Spotlight Productions shows, Brandon Byng will be creative director of the spring musical of Green Bay Notre Dame Academy, “Beauty and the Beast,” and direct the July production of Shawano’s Box in the Wood Theatre Guild’s “Seussical The Musical.”

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV at 6:45 p.m. Thursdays and every other Sunday between 6 and 8 a.m. (usually around 7:45 a.m.)

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