My Gay Toronto - MGT Stage

A classic musical reveals a subversive heart:
LOT's The Sound of Music

by Drew Rowsome
Photos by Karri North

Drag nuns and trans kids
Soft-hearted Nazis and big-voiced sopranos
Subversive messages wrapped up in song 
These are a few of my favourite things

If anyone had suggested that I would tear up when Maria returned from the abbey to rescue the children, and Captain Von Trapp, from the clutches of an evil gold digger, I would have laughed in their face.

But I did.

The Sound of Music is a musical that resides in all of our subconsciousnesses. The film version is a part of all our childhoods; the songs are instantly recognizable and are earworms; and the basic message of giving all for love and standing up for what one believes in, is powerful. Yet it also has a reputation for schmaltz - when Mad magazine created a parody The Sound of Muzak, no-one blinked an eye and that title entered the vernacular. The original stage production d├ębuted in 1959 and the film in 1965: very different times.

The Lower Ossington Theatre's production of The Sound of Music shifts the oblique references into the foreground and manages to present a family-friendly but utterly subversive version of the iconic musical. The songs are intact and gloriously sung - the sound problems that plagued the George Randolph Theatre appear to have been resolved - by a huge and energetic cast. And the subtle digs of the basic text, referencing those beyond the Von Trapps who were prosecuted by the Third Reich and its historical descendants are tastily illuminated: I don't remember a reference to a gypsy orchestra from the film; casting Emma Helm as Friedrich Von Trapp genderbends intriguingly (Maria claims that, "He is afraid to be himself"; Greg Carruthers as Max, who gets more than his fair share of the laughs, puts the pink in the pink triangle (Captain Von Trapp quips, "Now we have an odd man"); a few of the male actors do double duty as nuns; and when the swastika banners unfurl, a feel good musical takes on a very horrifying power. It is odd, but perhaps not for 1959, that there is not a single reference to anti-Semitism.

Politics aside, this production of The Sound of Music is slick and well done: a new highpoint for the Lower Ossington who have been setting the bar at a very high level. Take your mother, your boyfriend, or both in tandem, and you will have a satisfying night of theatre. There are some flubbed lines and choreography during the course of the almost three hours (though the show zips along and feels much shorter), but for the most part this is slickly professional and emotionally solid theatre.

Michelle Nash as Maria is more operatic than vocally endearing but her wide smile and gangly presence more than makes up for it. Barrett Morrison is a stolid Captain Von Trapp and possesses a rich deep baritone that fills the theatre. Emma Ferrante steals scenes just by being in the moment: her sobbing nun totally redeems the wedding scene and her Frau Schmidt is a moral centre in a world on the brink of horror. Even the children, and I, for the most part cringe when children are on stage, are charming. Little Hannah Levinson as Gretl Von Trapp is a delight and tucks every scene she is in under her tiny but expressive arms before strutting away with them. With luck, and skill, she is a future star and not a Honey Boo Boo.

It is a treat to hear songs cut from the movie - particularly the comic "How Can Love Survive" which critiques while pre-dating the concept of the one percent by several decades - and savour the catchy skill with which the songs in musicals used to be written. "My Favourite Things" is echoed in the orchestrations and recurs without ever losing the sheer beauty of the melody and sentiment.

The Mother Abbess - Adeen Ashton Fogle in a warm and delicately acted but vocally underwhelming turn - advises Maria, "You have great capacity for love and you must find how God wants you to express that love," before launching into "Climb Every Mountain." And that is the beauty of this production: love triumphs and the songs are sold. These hills are indeed alive and well worth climbing.


The Sound of Music continues until at least Sat, May 3 at the George Randolph Theatre, 736 Bathurst St.