When The Sound of Music debuted on Broadway in 1959, audiences fell in love with the von Trapp family and the chorus of children who sang their way into our hearts. For half a century, The Sound of Music has echoed through time as one of the most beloved musicals in history. The FSCJ Artist Series presents The Sound of Music October 31-November 5 at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts. The production features music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, suggested by The Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp.
The cherished story of Maria and the von Trapp Family will charm audiences all over again with its Tony, Grammy, and Academy Award-winning Best Score, including ‘My Favorite Things’, ‘Edelweiss’, and the title song.
Playing family patriarch Captain Georg von Trapp, Mike McLean is eager for audiences to experience the show from a different perspective. While the film version we all love and remember was concentrated on the children, the story in the original Broadway script focuses on the struggle the adults face during personal and political turmoil.
“The original Broadway show is different than the movie. Most people are familiar with the movie. We’ve actually gone back to the original script and original score,” says McLean. “What people will find new about it is the story of the adults. It’s not just about the kids singing some songs. There’s actually a different side to the story as the adults are finding themselves. It’s definitely worth coming to see because we shed a little bit of a new light on it.”
As a performer, McLean is thrilled to for the opportunity to play a character who goes through such profound change in the emotional journey that the family patriarch must travel in order to get back to his family. It’s also an opportunity to reintroduce the character to audiences. “I don’t think everyone really knows the character of Captain von Trapp as they think they might. I remember the movie growing up as a kid, and Maria was so fun and the kids sing and there’s little Gretl and she’s so cute, and you sort of forget about the juicy parts of the story. It’s really about the adults in the story, especially Captain von Trapp.”
In this staging of the Sound of Music, McLean’s character is tormented by the loss of his wife. Unable to face his children because they remind him of his late wife, he retreats into a state of melancholy until the sound of the singing children reignites a spark in the father’s heart. “He starts out the show as this very hurt, kind of wounded character. He can’t be around his children because they remind him of his late wife, and that’s heartbreaking. And it isn’t until he hears them sing for the first time that he sort of reawakens and realizes that he doesn’t know who they are anymore. He needs to get to know them again and get to know himself again and find a way to be a father to his children. Also in doing that, he starts to find out that he’s in love with Maria, so he has to rediscover how to love again.”
As if that wasn’t a plate full for the good Captain, times are tough in Austria and Captain von Trapp must feed his family of mini-minstrels while mapping out their escape from Austria ahead of the German occupation. If some of the material feels eerily familiar and a little uncomfortable, it is. But it also communicates the valuable lesson of the importance of fighting for what’s right.
“The story takes place in 1938 Austria, and Germany is about to annex Austria and take over. There’s Swastikas on stage that you’re going to see, and that’s going to sting a little bit considering that we are seeing them still today and it’s something that we have to deal with. It’s poignant. The story is still relevant, especially Captain Von Trapp having to fight for what he believes in. It’s a story that I think a lot of people are going to relate to. We have to fight for what we believe in and fight for what’s right and take care of our families,” says McLean.
Of course, it wouldn’t be the Sound of Music without the adorable cast of von Trapp children. It’s a challenging and often overwhelming experience for the young actors playing his children, but McLean says the talented bunch always give 100 percent. “When we’re traveling and sometimes not feeling like giving 100 percent, I always just look to the kids and they’re so excited to be on stage and playing these parts. It helps me refocus and be professional and not take for granted how special it is to be on stage every night,” he says. “I always try and set a good example for them. I mean, I want to joke around too, but if Captain von Trapp is joking around, obviously the kids are going to joke around. I try to be a father figure to them on and off the stage and tell them what a good job they’re doing.”
For McLean, music was always synonymous with family. His mother wa a singer and his father the bassist in a local band. The pair met when his mom auditioned to be the band’s lead singer. One of his most cherished childhood memories is that of his mom singing ‘My Favorite Things’. “I didn’t know it was from the show. I just thought it was a fun song and very pretty. Now I get to hear it every night, and it sort of re-centers me every night and brings me back to the theme of the show which is family first and foremost. It’s helpful when I’m playing Captain Von Trapp, because that’s what brings him back to his family, so it hits home,” says McLean.
“I hope audiences take another look at their own lives and their own families with a fresh set of eyes. That’s what the story is about. It’s reexamining our life and finding out what’s really important. Of course, I want everyone to enjoy the show and tap their feet and sing along and laugh at the jokes and cry when it’s sad, but I hope that they can come away with it and go, ‘You know, I should call my mom.’ Maybe in a word, that’s what I hope. I hope you go home and call your mom at the end of the show.”
For more information, or to buy your mom tickets to the show, go to fscjartistseries.org.