When Theatre South Playhouse opens “The Sound of Music,” theatergoers could be in for a surprise.
“This is not your grandfather’s ‘Sound of Music,’” director Mark Ferrera says with a chuckle.
The theater’s vision for the perennial favorite was inspired by the size and distinct nontraditional shape of the venue itself, located in a shopping plaza in southwest Orlando’s Dr. Phillips neighborhood.
“It’s a very intimate theater, maybe 85-90 people tops,” Ferrera says. “When you’re in that space, it presents a lot of challenges. You’re forced to be creative to tell your story.”
For one, the scenic design had to be re-imagined.
“There’s not much opportunity for big sets,” Ferrera says. “We don’t have the Alps.”
Instead multiple moving staircases, benches, a trellis and other bits of furniture will evoke the settings of the familiar story about a music-loving nun-turned-governess in pre-World War II Austria. Lighting also will play a key role.
“It’s a raw telling,” he says. “I’m excited about it.”
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Without the grand vista of the mountains between Austria and Switzerland, “even the opening song can have a different point of view,” Ferrera says.
In the Playhouse’s version, when Maria (Dayja Le’Chelle) sings “The hills are alive …” she’ll be remembering her adventures — from her convent days to serving as governess to Capt. von Trapp’s brood of children to romance and the daring flight from the Nazis over her beloved mountains.
Another idea frames this version of “The Sound of Music”: The very real threat that hangs over the von Trapps as the Nazis cement their power in 1930s Germany and absorb Austria into Hitler’s Reich.
Ferrera plans to set the mood with preshow music of the era and radio news reports about the Nazi rise to power. That doesn’t mean he will neglect the love story between irrepressible Maria and Capt. von Trapp (Sean Powell); in fact, he thinks the two aspects of the story complement each other.
“The love story is more powerful and palpable when put up against what’s facing them,” he says. “It makes their love story more poignant than in the typical frolicking musical. It shows it takes real courage.”
Putting the Nazis at the forefront of theatergoers’ minds also elevates Capt. von Trapp’s patriotism — and the passion the stoic man has kept inside.
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“He’s watching his country fall apart, that love of country is a big deal,” Ferrera says. “Then here comes Maria to blow everything up.”
She’s the “real thunderbolt,” he says, who exposes “how passionate Capt. von Trapp is about his children, how much he loves his country,” and ultimately, of course, “how much he loves Maria.”
Ferrera knows some audience members will likely expect a cookie-cutter copy of the movie — even though there always have been differences between the stage and film versions. (No “Lonely Goatherd” puppet show takes place on stage, for example). The Playhouse did get permission to use the movie’s popular duet “Something Good” in its production, Ferrera said.
An actor himself and show director at Walt Disney World, Ferrera has a fondness for “The Sound of Music.” Like many, he remembers watching the movie on TV each Thanksgiving in his youth. And as a college student at UCLA, he took a semester off to direct a high-school production of the show, one of the gigs that set him on his career path.
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“It was a great experience,” he says. “The kids were great, the parents were great. It was a memorable time.”
He thinks audiences for the Playhouse version of the show also will make memories.
“In the end, it’s very joyous and redemptive,” he says of his production. “It’s all the things you want to feel at the holidays.”
- Where: Theatre South Playhouse in the Marketplace at Dr. Phillips, 7601 Della Drive in Orlando
- When: Dec. 1-18
- Cost: $32-$42 ($20 tickets for entertainment-industry workers at certain performances)
- Info: theatresouthplayhouse.org
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