Matt Lenz, who directed the touring production of “The Sound of Music” that arrives Tuesday at the Moran Theater for the first of eight shows, is a great admirer of the 1959 musical, the last collaboration between composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, who died nine months after the Broadway premiere.
But Lenz knows the show, which tells the story of Maria Rainer, who takes a job as governess to a large family while she decides whether to become a nun, has its detractors. When the show (which won five Tony Awards, including best musical) opened on Broadway in 1959, New York Herald Tribune critic Walter Kerr wrote that the show “becomes not only too sweet for words but almost too sweet for music.” Christopher Plummer, who played Capt. Georg von Trapp in the 1965 movie (which won five Oscars, including best picture) took to calling it “The Sound of Mucus.”
Yes, Lenz agreed, the show “can be totally done on the surface,” becoming rather saccharine in the process. “You can easily wallow in this sweet, fluffy kind of thing.”
“My particular taste is not saccharine,” Lenz said. “Whatever the project, if I feel it’s overly sentimental, I work against that. With ‘The Sound of Music,’ if you take the time and give it its due, there is an extraordinarily sophisticated story.”
In that story, Maria first falls in love with the seven von Trapp children, then with their stern father. While all this is happening, there is the looming threat of Anschluss, N**i Germany’s annexation of Austria, which could force Capt. von Trapp to serve in Germany’s navy.
On his web site, Lenz writes: “The stories we tell in the theatre matter — they have the power to heal, to change hearts and minds — and at their best they reflect our humanity.”
Asked how “The Sound of Music” reflects humanity, Lenz said: “It covers so much psychologically and spiritually. It’s about religion, politics, romance, family, so much that is deeply, deeply important to us. It’s really about our convictions, our principals and what we’re willing to stand up for. It’s about figuring out what you are meant to do and how to spend your love.”
Most people have never seen the version of “The Sound of Music” that opened on Broadway in 1959 because so many subsequent versions, including the 1965 movie, have cut and rearranged material, Lenz said
“This show is really that original version,” he said. “It’s really worth hearing. This is Rodgers & Hammerstein at the top of their game. It’s so fresh, so vital and it’s all very relevant.”
Lenz originally started work on “The Sound of Music” national tour in September 2015 as associate director, The director was Jack O’Brien, with whom Lenz has frequently worked. That show toured for two years before closing last summer. When the decision was made to recast the show and take it back out on the road, O’Brien was unavailable. So Lenz took over as director for the new production, which opened just after Labor Day in Seattle.
He spoke to the Times-Union by telephone from Fort Lauderdale in mid-October. He does not travel with the show but he does check in every six weeks to see how things are going and make any necessary adjustments. He said he’ll check in again when the show travels to New Haven, Conn., in late November.
Charlie Patton: (904) 359-4413