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3D Theatricals' Season Opener Brings Harmony to the Foothills of Fullerton

Courtesy of 3D Theatricals

I, like many of my generation grew up watching Julie Andrews twirl in song during our family’s annual viewing of the film, The Sound of Music, the 1964 five-time Oscar winning movie, which made cinematic history as one of the most successful films of all time, alongside The Wizard of Oz. But we have to remember, before they were movies, they told their stories on the stage, and had successful runs on Broadway.

These two titles seem to be lucky ones for 3D Theatricals, as they recently closed their prior season with a critically-acclaimed, larger-than-life production of Wizard. I was fortunate enough to experience this production behind the scenes and was impressed with the passion and vision of this young production company, as it took on this massive show, the title it inherited from the FCLO when it assumed its remaining season and venue, the historic Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton.  

The production team of this young company includes the trio of T.J., Daniel and Gretchen Dawson. T.J, the oldest of the three Dawson siblings, probably needed a Hawaiian vacation after The Wizard of Oz, but instead, he jumped right into 3D’s second season with vigor, taking the director's role, with assistance provided by his wife and co-producer, Jeanette. When selecting their first complete season at the Plummer, 3D listened to subscribers, who voted for Sound of Music as one of the titles they would like to see. It was T.J’s goal to breathe some new life into his production, yet keep the integrity of the Von Trapp story and respect Rodgers and Hammerstein’s final collaboration.

We all know the story, right? No need for a synopsis? Most of us (or our parents) owned the VHS, and many have upgraded to the anniversary edition of the DVD at this point in our technology. If not, you can Netflix, should you feel you need a refresher. I would recommend watching the film version again after seeing this production, as I think you will be surprised to find this production is better than the film in many refreshing ways. Simply put, this is the real deal and it is done well – there is a stage full of talent in this show, from nuns to Nazis.

The show opens up with "Morning Prayer and Alleluia" powerfully performed by an ensemble of singing nuns who are worried about their young postulant, Maria. Mother Abbess (Cynthia Marty) and Sister Berte (Tamara Zook), Sister Margaretta (Pamela Hamill), Sister Bernice (Bonnie Kovar), along with Sister Sophia (Abby Bolin), Sister Agatha (Amy Glinkas) and Sister Catherine (Natalie Sachse) fill the stage and set up the plot, which includes some comedic turns by Zook, Hamill and Kovar. Marty is a younger, compassionate and loving Mother Abbess, and she has an amazing set of pipes; she performs the scene stealer, “Climb Evr’y Mountain,” with power and magnificence.

I've heard how challenging it is to sing in a habit (all that fabric can mess with your hearing, similar to being underwater), but you would never know it –these ladies never miss a note. The Abby’s singing nuns include Melissa Batalles, Carlin Castellano, Megan Cherry, Deborah Chitty, Kaitlyn Etter, Tessa Grady, Laura M. Hathaway, Stephanie K. Leppert, Kimberly McCoy, and Stefanie Selai.

Seasoned performer Kim Huber was a natural choice for Maria, she has the talent and the acting chops to deliver a Maria that is fresh and funny, and a voice that is strong and rich. Tom Schmid takes the lead as Captain Von Trapp and gives us a leader who is stern yet vulnerable, and is successful in providing the love/hate relationship associated with this character. Both have a unique chemistry together and offer a grounded and believable performance.

And, then there are the Von Trapp children, skillfully portrayed by young actors from Orange and Los Angeles Counties. They are accounted for by their distinctive whistles – Leisel (Tessa Grady), Friedrich (Griffin Runnels), Louisa (Jenna Lea Rosen), Kurt (Carter Thomas), Brigitta (Cozy Zuehlsdorff), Marta (Jaidyn Young), and Gretl (Hadley Miller). Each one embraces his or her character and offers up some refreshing personality, and as a whole, are definite crowd-pleasers. Wonderful vocals from Rosen and Thomas, clever dialog from Zuehlsdorff and Young, convincing aloofness from Grady and Runnels as the standoffish older siblings, and adorable staging of Miller, bring the kids into the heart of this production.

The young love skillfully portrayed in the “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” number between Rolf (Neil Starkenberg) and Grady is cleverly choreographed, taking into account the limitations of the stage (the sets are massive) and catapults that scene to a new level. Grady gives a standout performance in this show; I have a feeling we are going to say “we knew her when” about this talented young performer.

The Captain’s entitled love interest, Elsa Schraeder (Jill Van Velzer), and sycophantic sidekick, Max Detweiler (James Stellos), add to the plot, and have some good bits in “How Can Love Survive” and “No Way To Stop It,” songs that never made the film, but add some punch to the stage version of Music.

Franz (John Butz) and Frau Schmidt (Bonnie Kovar) portray “the help” at the Von Trapp estate and the cast is rounded off with a strong ensemble – many doubling up as nuns to party guests and members of another kind of party occupying the story… You will feel an urge to hiss when Herr Zeller (Matthew Benedict) and Admiral von Schreiber (J.P. Sarro) are delivering their evil message on stage, with their Nazi counterparts played by Peter Schueller, Macleish Day, Michael Marchak, Matthew Thurmond, and Zachary Zaret.

The Sound of Music is known as a show filled with song (hence the title) and its catalog – which includes the title song “Sound of Music,” “Edelweiss,” “So Long, Farewell,” and “My Favorite Things” – is wonderfully conducted by Julie Lamoureux. And although there are not big dance numbers, the choreography is key to the fluidity of the story and it is mastered by Kami Seymour, who succeeds in manipulating some challenging logistics, and a stage filled with actors in habits – not an easy feat!

The technical aspects of this show are equally as important to its success. Nuns are lit up beautifully, designed by R. Kent Sheranian, clear sound design by John Feinstein, sets from the original Ahmanson production provided by Music and Theater Company, with additional scenic design by Bruce Goodrich, prop design by Terry Hanrahan, wonderful costumes from FCLO Music and Theater, additionally designed by Mela Hoyt-Heydon, wardrobe supervised by Yolanda Rowell, wig design by Cliff and Kat Senior, all skillfully stage managed by Lisa Palmire, assisted by Jenny Jacobs.

There is an entire list of behind-the-scenes staff and volunteers that help put on this show and I have found that they are all loyal and dedicated to the mission of 3D Theatricals – to bring Broadway-caliber productions to regional theater in Orange County. This emerging family business is on its way and with Sound of Music, I can safely say, mission accomplished.

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