CAMERON KELSALL: Only three years separate the creation of The Most Happy Fella (1956) and The Sound of Music (1959), but there’s a proverbial ocean between these two Golden Age musicals are being performed at prestigious festivals this summer. We saw both over the span of 24 hours last weekend, David, and I think you’d agree with this study in contrasts. At Williamstown Theatre Festival in the Berkshires, director Daniel Fish follows his acclaimed, deconstructed production of Oklahoma with a similarly retooled interpretation of Frank Loesser’s American operetta. Fish abstracts the plot and reassigns the music to a company of seven women and nonbinary performers, resulting in a performance that values mood and style over narrative structure. Meanwhile, at the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, New York, Francesca Zambello delivers a stringently conventional take on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s final masterpiece, complete with picture postcard sets and a sweeping orchestra. Both stagings have their merits, and seeing them in close proximity threw into stark relief the debate over traditionalism versus innovation when reviving classic midcentury works. Yet I think it’s safe to say we had a clear favorite among these experiences?
DAVID FOX: Indeed, we did, and (spoiler alert) it’s the same one, so I’ll start with the loser… such as it is. Surely Sound of Music is no loser to millions of adoring fans of the film, with many sequences known by heart and recreated lovingly—if occasionally also with a deliberately campy overlay. There’s much to reinforce both sides, I think. The score remains enchantingly fresh and tuneful, really a parade of toe-tapping melodies and near-permanent ear worms. Yet the story—based in reality but also spun like cotton candy—looks pretty ludicrous at this point in time, if it didn’t 63 years ago…
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Categories: Criticism, Music, PARTERRE BOX, Theater
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