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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment Reviews

Elizabeth Telford as Maria in Skylight Music Theatre's production of "The Sound of Music." (PHOTO: Mark Frohna)

Skylight sends its love in "The Sound of Music"


Above all else, "The Sound of Music" is a love story.

Love between a man and a woman. Love of a God. Love of music. Love of country. Love of a father for his children. Love of children for their father.

And falling in love is what you will do when you see the production, which opened Friday at Skylight Music Theatre.

There is so much to love about this show that the temptation is to just mention the things I didn't love. But that is a nonexistent list, so let's get started with the good stuff, kind of in order.

I loved the way the show started, with nuns everywhere in the theater, chanting and singing and holding candles.

I loved my first glimpse of Elizabeth Telford as Maria when she sat in a grassy glen with her slippers off and took us on a sweeping journey with the title song. Her voice climbed into the furthest reaches of those mountains with a chilling joy.

I loved the children, who were introduced with the famous "Do-Re-Mi." They were all great singers and wonderful actors. And to think there are two full casts of these kids makes you think Milwaukee's theatrical future is in good hands.

I loved the children singing "The Sound of Music" while their curt father listens, and how he melts to the music and joins his children in song and hugs. This was the first touch of tears on my cheeks even though I've probably seen that scene a hundred times.

I loved how the tears continued to flow from my eyes as the Captain, played by Steve Koehler, and Maria shared their first dance. It was the first time they touched and the first time their eyes locked.

I loved how embarrassed and confused Maria was after the dance and how little Brigitta had to explain that her father loved Maria and that Maria loved her father.

I loved the way Maria ran away and how the Mother Abess, played with such humanity and dignity by Cynthia Marty, led her back to the path of true love with a stirring rendition of "Climb Every Mountain." This one gave me goosebumps.

I loved the way Koehler played the father. It's easy to make this guy a cardboard cut-out, but he gave the Captain a sense of warmth, even in the midst of disciplinarian to his children and in his steadfast opposition to the Nazis. He recognizes that singing is just a tool for an actor, and his voice is a part and parcel of who the Captain is.

I loved – make that I was crazy in love with – Telford, who sings all over the country. She's cute as a button and brings a depth to Maria that I've rarely seen. In most productions it's easy to put Maria in this or that box, but not here. Telford lets Maria develop as a woman but never is far from her God. She embraces fully the Mother Abbess's counsel that "loving a man doesn't mean you love God any less." Telford is exquisite.

I loved two real Milwaukee treasures, Flora Coker and David Ferrie, who play the housekeeper and butler. Each gives a fullness to their parts. Coker has the kind of dignity and loyalty you'd want every housekeeper to have. For Ferrie, this marks his 50th year in Milwaukee theater. His first play was "The Sound of Music" with the old Milwaukee Players. He was one of the children.

I loved the humor mixed with devilishness that Bill Theisen brought to Max Detweiler. Theisen is in his final year as Artistic Director at Skylight, and it's wonderful to see him go out onstage in such a great show.

Think the love is gone? Not yet.

I absolutely loved the music under Music Director Jamie Johns. Rodgers & Hammerstein wrote the perfect musical with this one, and Johns brought creativity and extreme sensibility to the songs. They were a delight for the audience. You could see lips moving and heads bopping along with every song. He brought justice to great music.

I loved the sets. From drawing rooms to bedrooms to wedding chapels to an abbey to a garden, Peter Dean Beck designed an amazing display of great taste. Nothing was out of bounds. And the idea to have the mountains around almost all the time brought such a sense of place that there should be some kind of award for his work.

I loved the costumes designed by Pamela J. Rehberg, who teaches this stuff at UWM. You can only imagine what it must be like to design for 60-some actors and singers, some of whom wear more than one costume. They sparkled.

And now for the final one.

I loved, and will always love, Molly Rhode, who directed and choreographed the play. She is an actress of incredible grace and beauty and she brings those qualities to her directing. She made the actors sing and dance, the dancers and singers act. Her thumbprint was on every second of the play with staging that was at once both imaginative and highly disciplined.

I was just kidding about that being the last one. Here's the real last one, and it's about Molly Rhode.

There is a moment when Maria and the Captain share their very first kiss. They stand close and their lips move slowly toward each other. It is so slow and tender that you could feel the entire audience leaning forward, silently shouting, "Kiss her, dammit, kiss her."

He did. And we all sat back in our chairs, ready for some more love.

"The Sound of Music" runs through Dec. 31 at Skylight Music Theatre.


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