But many audiences love it. And to say it is the least of Rodgers and Hammerstein is to say it is the least of a very good string of musicals. It does have flashes of the masters' touch.
The structure of the show justifies its title: the plot turns on music. Maria wins the von Trapp children with music. Stern Captain von Trapp softens when the children sing (and even I can almost tear up at that moment). The Captain and Maria fall in love to music while they are dancing. The family escapes from the Nazis at the climactic music festival by leaving the stage while singing “So Long, Farewell.”
But I do wish the show ended with the wedding. Those last scenes never feel to me like an organic part of Maria's story.
My reservations aside, Stages St. Louis, under Michael Hamilton's direction, has mounted a fine production.
The Maria, Casey Erin Clark, has the right liveliness and impulsiveness for the part and a fine voice – though the amplification system at the Kirkwood Community Center theatre seemed to be unkind to her voice sometimes.
Stages favorite David Schmittou extends his range as Captain von Trapp, stern and reserved and then melting, with proper reserve.
Suzanne Ishee, the Mother Superior, nearly stops the show with her glorious rendition of the inspirational “Climb Every Mountain.”
Kari Ely brings her mature charm to the role of Elsa Schraeder, who almost marries the captain. William Thomas Evans does fine comic work as the impresario Max Detweiler.
Heidi Giberson nicely balances innocence and flirtatiousness as Liesl, the oldest von Trapp girl. Matt Leisy gives Rolf Grube, Liesl's almost boy friend, a proper Prussian stiffness. Local youngsters Matthew Howard, Julia Schweizer, Braden Phillips, Morgan McDonald, Grace Clark, and Phoebe Desilets shine as the other von Trapp children.
Stages regulars Zoe Vonder Haar and John Flack are the Captain's household staff, with Karin Berutti, Michele Burdette Elmore, and Pamela Reckemp as the Mother Superior's right-hand nuns. Christopher Guilmet is a nasty Nazi, Whit Reichert and Laura Ernst the local aristocrats, and Shaun Sheley plays a sympathetic admiral.
Mark Halpin's scenic designs do amazing things on that limited Kirkwood stage, unfortunately requiring some noisy work behind the scenes when setting them up. Lou Bird designed the traditional costumes, Matthew McCarthy the lights, and Stuart M. Elmore the computerized accompaniment. Lisa Campbell Albert's musical direction creates lovely choral blends, and choreographer Dana Lewis invents lively and smart staging for the songs.
If you like The Sound of Music, you'll enjoy Stages' production.