Anchorage Opera scores a musical hit

Mike Dunham
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News

Anchorage Opera wraps up its 50th anniversary season this weekend with an elegant production of "The Sound of Music."

The show zips through the plot and familiar tunes with a running time of less than three hours. Credit for that goes to some well-considered cuts -- dialogue is trimmed to a minimum, especially in the first act -- but even more to the brilliant production team.

Director Bill Fabris keeps the momentum rolling. Stage movement is natural and convincing, no easy trick given the obligatory song-and-dance format of the art form. He successfully treads the fine line between music-driven action and choreography for choreography's sake. His approach puts the drama front and center and at key moments permits the music to tell the story with more power than acting alone might convey.

Conductor Kelly Kuo's attention to both detail and long melodic lines makes the score a pleasure to hear. The big pit orchestra sounds as good, if not better, than any Anchorage Opera instrumental ensemble I can recall, though on Wednesday there was some miscommunication when the children, off stage, began singing out of tune with the accompanying guitar in the pit; this may have been a technical problem that prevented the musicians from hearing each other.

Cleo Pettitt's sets are ingenious and effective, quickly swapped out to present the stained glass of the convent or the various parts of von Trapp's sumptuous estate. The scene changes are done in a matter of seconds, which is key to keeping the audience's attention fixed on the stage.

"Sound of Music" is considered the most popular American musical, largely because of the highly successful movie. There are notable differences in plot details and music between the live and film versions. Both are illusions, of course, but the main difference, to me, is that I find a greater emotional connection to performances by living in-person singers and actors in the same room with me than to performances on celluloid, where the real stars are the directors, cinematographers, film editors and special effects teams. The fabulous outdoor aerial zoom on Julie Andrews that opens the movie is visually more thrilling than the site of this production's Maria, Katrina Thurman, singing the title song on what is obviously a wooden floor.

On the other hand, Thurman's lips actually move in time with the words she's singing. And it isn't necessary to splice in high notes sung by another singer, as it was in the movie. Thurman's clear soprano nails each note nicely, thank you.

All of the principals, in fact, are to be commended for their accuracy and much-welcome diction. Chad Sloan makes a younger-than-usual Captain von Trapp; one might suspect that he was 12 when he fathered the first of the von Trapp brood, but his youth makes his rediscovery of a zest for life readily believable. Jessica Bowers is a sympathetic Mother Abbess.

Soprano Kate Egan's talent is mostly limited to "How Can Love Survive," sung with Curt Olds in the role of "Uncle" Max. Though the cuts take away some of the character development in these secondary parts, the performers compensate with strong, generous deliveries, supporting the adage that there are no small roles.

Speaking of small, the von Trapp children sing and move with polish; several are veterans of numerous previous local shows, a credit to Alaska's community theater scene. A review can't name all parties in a production of this scope, but we'll name these: Liesl, Christine Eagleson; Friedrich, Joseph Syren; Louisa, Jenna Chronister; Kurt, Jon Syren; Brigitta, Madeline Maurer; Marta, Brooklynn Carver; and Gretl, Mary Syren.

What do you want to bet the Syren kids do a lot of singing at home?

Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.

Anchorage Daily News