Health And Family

Sounds family

MIDLIFERY - Twink Macaraeg -

You know what I’ve found to be the ultimate family treat? Catching The Sound of Music from the VIP box of the Newport Performing Arts Theatre. Mind you, all four components — Sound of Music, VIP box, Newport Theatre, and, course, blood relatives  must be present to deserve such an accolade. Allow me to break down my proposition to convince you of its validity. Starting with what’s arguably the main attraction:

The Sound Of Music. Even the most cynical would have been entranced at some point in their lives by what was, for decades, the highest-grossing film ever. Beloved the world over, except, ironically, in Austria where the musical is set, and by leading man Christopher Plummer, who likened the movie-making experience to being bludgeoned daily by a Valentine Card.  I dare anyone to deny knowing the lyrics to My Favorite Things or to pretend that his first lesson in music didn’t involve learning scales to the tune of Do-A-Deer.     

My memories date back to two productions staged locally, prior to the one currently running. Yes, the one in 1980 that boasted just-budding powerhouses like Lea Salonga, Monique Wilson, Risa Hontiveros, Menchu and Raymund Lauchengco as the Von Trapp children, but also the one that about six years before that, which I recall mainly for the girl playing Gretl’s inability to stay on key. And, I’ll be darned if Leo Martinez didn’t play Max both those times, as he does yet again today.

West End star Joanna Ampil who came from obscurity to play the lead in Miss Saigon headlines this revival. There’s something about Joanna, ever since iconic roles Kim and Eponine, she seems to have made a career out of playing characters named Mary. Mary Magdalene, Maria of West Side Story, and now Maria Von Trapp (the role she looks forward to playing is, wouldn’t you know it — Mary Poppins). Be prepared to find some disconcerting differences from the movie. Instead of My Favorite Things being sung to calm the children during a thunderstorm, The Lonely Goatherd is instead, while the former is relegated to — very early in the play — establishing novice Maria’s youthful exuberance and that the old crone of a Mother Abbess was once a girl, too.

Baroness Elsa isn’t merely a glamorous shrew in the mold of every stepmother wannabe, here, she actually sings (Pinky Amador at her maleficent best, using her superior acting skills to make the audience believe that she can carry a tune). And the Baroness parts ways with the Captain not because she’s lost out to the help, but because of ideological differences arising from Captain Von Trapp’s refusal to compromise with the Nazis (which, to my mind, is the less credible deal-breaker). 

Otherwise, things are largely in their proper place. Tears will well up on cue during the wedding processional (despite odd staging), chuckles will accompany the How Do You Solve number as well as the perenially bowing third-placer at the music festival and Climb Every Mountain will elicit some bravos as the curtain goes down on the First Act. What’s really going to surprise you is the sheer decadence of ....

The VIP box. A spacious private enclave with eight La-Z-Boys that quietly recline to each occupant’s preferred obtuse angle with the slightest pressure on a button. The view is so unlike any you’ve had from a theater box before that you’re bound to forget the slightly tinny acoustics. Rather than having your neck twisted in an awkward crook and the presentation appreciated from a sideways glance, these seats offer you center full-on vista through a transparent panel (acrophobes be warned!).  

A waitress serves drinks (“this is the best iced tea in the world!”), popcorn (“this is the best popcorn in the world!”), and stands by for refill requests. Lazy boys and girls will delight in the luxurious powder room for use of “only the V-est of the IPs” (I swear, I overheard these conversations), while adult males and females  will revel in the private bar to repair to during intermission. My hubby and I sat by ourselves in this plush room, taken aback by this sudden opportunity to recreate a classic cinematic hook-up and finding ourselves tongue-tied by the unexpectedness of it all.  He manages to toast “here’s looking at you, kid” which only serves to remind us to hurry back, worried that the kids had somehow turned our cushion-filled VIP box into a wrestling ring. We needn’t have. They were all basking in the comfort of their Lazybums awaiting the next serving from the deliciously gaudy ....

Newport Performance Theatre. A ginormous LED screen serves as scenery in place of inventive set design. Two somewhat smaller LED screens flank the stage projecting close-ups, like they have in concerts. True-blue musical theater fans would object to the screens as detracting from the genuine theatrical experience. But most under the age of 30 have come to expect such technological gimmickry for anything to pass as entertainment. I personally thought that the producers could have used the screens to give Eidelweiss the videoke treatment (so the audience really does sing along when the Von Trapp family is trying to rally festival-goers to patriotism) but then again, such out and out hokiness might have driven purists to mount a Les Miserables-style barricade.

But what the LED screens do is highlight Ampil’s loveliness and talent. You believe the change from awkward ingénue to self-possessed matron, even without the benefit of special effects. Unfortunately, the opposite is achieved in the case of Ariel Rivera as Captain Von Trapp, The balladeer should have grown into mature roles by now, but he still comes across as callow (like he could have played Rolf if the LED screens didn’t magnify wrinkles and a slightly saggy jawline). In that pivotal scene when the Captain is so overcome by emotion while singing Eidelweiss that he can’t continue, Rivera appears instead to be a kid who’s forgotten his lines in the school play. And when Ampil comes to his rescue, Rivera looks at her, not as a husband bursting with love for his terrific wife, but like a sheepish son expecting his mom to give him a thrashing for screwing up (at least, Rivera does still cut a dashing figure so any female teenager in the group will welcome his bland presence). Which brings me back to my thesis statement. There’s something for anyone of any age group to enjoy in watching The Sound Of Music from the VIP box at the Newport Performing Arts Theatre, whether it be the show, the venue, or its special frills. But what makes this the ultimate family treat is, ultimately, the fact that who else but family would deserve such a treat?

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