REVIEW: Walton Arts Center’s offering of “The Sound of Music” brings us back to classic songs

Jill-Christine Wiley as Maria Rainer and the von Trapp children

Photo by Matthew Murphy

There’s a line early in the new stage production of “The Sound of Music” that serves as a bit of unintentional humor, an inside joke for musical theater lovers.

The Mother Abbess, when deciding Maria’s fate at the abbey, has her young charge sing the tune she caught Maria belting out a few days before. It’s part of the reason Maria is in trouble – there isn’t to be such exuberance at the abbey. It’s a song the Mother Abbess tells Maria she once knew as a girl living among the hills surrounding their abbey, but her years in the abbey have led to her forgetting the lyrics.

What: “The Sound of Music”
When: Through May 20
Where: Walton Arts Center, Fayetteville
Cost: $46-$85
Tickets: 479-443-5600 or

Maria obliges and sings “My Favorite Things” and the Mother Abbess eventually joins her in the tune.

The punchline, of course, is that we all know the lyrics to “My Favorite Things,” one of the standouts from the 1959 work by Rodgers and Hammerstein that was made into a wildly popular movie in 1965.

That’s not the only song we know, either. The title track, “Do-Re-Mi,” “Edelweiss” and “Maria” are all music theater canon. You might even have a favorite song beyond those I mentioned, and that’s a big part of the enduring appeal of the show. The songs presented here are among the best the format has produced.

This latest incarnation of “The Sound of Music” comes to us from a tour that launched late last year. It was based off a 2015 national tour of the story. That follows a live television version of the musical that aired in 2013. In other words, this is a musical that never ceases. The current version comes through the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville with shows through May 20.

If the songs are that familiar, I suspect the plot is as well, but here’s a brief recap for those somehow unacquainted. After devoting her life to God and joining the abbey near her home, Maria (played in the production by Jill-Christine Wiley) learns the quiet life of the order might not be right for her. Mother Abbess (played by Lauren Kidwell) sends her on a temporary assignment to serve as the governess to the seven children of naval captain Georg von Trapp (Mike McLean). Maria re-introduces music into the home, which has fallen quiet after the death of von Trapp’s wife. The kids fall in love with Maria, and eventually, so does the captain. But their love is complicated by evil forces accumulating in their native Austria. It’s a story about love, adorable singing children and the spread of the Nazis in Europe. It will forever be unsettling to see a Nazi flag flying, and the four large banners draped as a literal and figurative backdrop to the family’s big concert performance serve as a stark reminder of the not-so-distant past.

Mike McLean as Captain von Trapp and the von Trapp Family

Photo by Matthew Murphy

In the current incarnation, “The Sound of Music” is packaged into a slick production that moves along fairly briskly. Its run time is equal to that of the movie, for instance, but the musical also features a 20-minute intermission. As someone who has casually but not ritually watched versions of “The Sound of Music” throughout the years, I’m not sure what was trimmed away or compressed. My wife expressed some dismay at the song sequencing of the show, and it leads me to believe that your individual experience might depend on how perfect you believe the Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer television version to be and how many times you’ve watched it. The leads of the production in Fayetteville don’t have the smoldering charisma and chemistry of the Andrews and Plummer pairing, but that’s not fair. Few couples do.

In the current experience, the scenes featuring Wiley and her interactions with the children just sing right along (pardon the pun) and provide much of the appeal of the show. The children, for their part, are impossibly charming and manage their vocal duties quite well. I’m not sure how old Sophia Massa (the actress who plays the 6-year-old Gretl von Trapp) is in real life. But it’s so impressive to watch actors of her age have the focus and discipline she displayed on stage. The capacity crowd for Tuesday’s opening night performance at the WAC devoured it, and with good reason. There are some really wonderful moments.

If anything feels unfocused, it’s a lack of room for lingering emotions. Decisions are made quickly, and the captain makes two critical about faces with such haste that they feel hollow and unbelievable.

But the family’s final act of quick thinking is the one that closes their performance at the singing festival, and subsequently, the show. It tells us one last time that we know the story, and we know what we are fighting for. Love – and in this case, music – ultimately win.