Fear and Kindness in”Sound of Music”

Arts & Culture


When “The Sound of Music” premiered on Broadway in 1959, it did so to audiences still shaking off the trauma of a second major war. The alarming rise of the Nazi party in Europe left many reeling and wondering if the same could happen anywhere. For Josh Rhodes, director and choreographer of the Asolo’s “The Sound of Music” production, the play’s iconic music often overshadows the theme of fear so central to the musical’s meaning, and in this theme, he saw an opportunity to frame the story’s tension as a battle between doing what’s right and doing what’s easy.

“I think the original writers of the musical really captured the danger of neutrality,” says Rhodes. The von Trapp family of Austria is affluent and somewhat removed from the graver grotesqueries of Germany’s fascist fire until the Anschluss, when Germany forcibly annexed Austria back into its empire. The patriarch of the family, who opposes Nazi ideology, seems skeptical the regime can succeed, and this skepticism eventually forces his family to make a hasty escape or risk being thrown into Hitler’s war machine. “I was inspired by this lesson in the script,” says Rhodes, “and how you can’t hide behind walls.” And the Asolo’s in-house set designers gave Rhodes a chance to capture this lesson 

In collaboration with the Asolo’s set desginers, Rhodes was able to create scenes in which the character’s “are sort of boxed in,” he says. This serves to simultaneously shield them from the outside world and give viewers a sense that the von Trapps cannot fully understand the gravity of the looming war. This will also give the Asolo’s production a freshly conceived look that will still feel familiar to longtime fans of the musical. And when producing a musical that is such a pillar in theatre, director’s like Rhodes are faced with the daunting task of honoring its original timelessness while still finding something new to say. But Rhodes felt the time was appropriate for the play’s theme of fear to take a prominent role. “There’s a certain harshness in our society right now,” he says, “and I think the play asks us to soften our hearts and be kind.” 

The production opens next week at the Asolo Repertory Theatre on Wednesday November 13th and stars Maddie Shea Baldwin as Maria.

Pictured: Maddie Shea Baldwin poses as Maria with the von Trapp children. Photo by John Revisky

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