The hills are finally alive again at Spotlight Theatre, 1800 7th Ave., Moline, as its long-awaited “The Sound of Music” opens Friday night and will run for two weekends.
Thanks to COVID, the beloved Rodgers & Hammerstein musical was originally planned to bow in December 2020, but got pushed back a year. The classic – which includes standards like “My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi,” “Edelweiss,” and the title tune – was staged by Circa ’21, Rock Island, in 2014 and Quad City Music Guild, Moline, in 2004.
The cast for the new version at the three-year-old Spotlight is headed by Lily Maynard as Maria; Victor Angelo as Captain Georg von Trapp; Chris Tracy as Max Detweiller; Kristen Marietta as Elsa Schrader, and Dolores Sierra as Mother Abbess.
Spotlight co-owner Sara Tubbs (she runs the place with husband Brent Tubbs) is doing her first solo directing here since summer 2019’s “Matilda” (she and Brent directed the Spotlight first musical, “Hunchback of Notre Dame” in fall 2018).
They’re using the Scottish Rite Cathedral backdrop that was from “Hunchback” again, and another cathedral drop (left when they took over the historic 1930 building) for the Mother Abbess office.
There also are a number of photo projections – including one from Brent Tubbs’ parents, when they did a von Trapp tour in Austria.
“I’ve actually never seen the pictures,” Maynard said this week of the immortal scene where Maria twirls around in front of the Alps. “Any time I turn around, it’s a joyous moment, so I’ve never seen the mountains.”
Photo projections include for the inside of the Captain’s mansion, the terrace and a cemetery. Spotlight used projections for “Frozen, Jr.,” “Gentleman’s Guide,” and some for the beginning of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
“Sound of Music” was originally planned for December 2020, and Sara was to direct then.
“I’ve had lots of time to think about it, that’s for sure,” she said, noting she played Liesl in both high school and college productions.
“It’s such a beautiful show – the message, the music. It’s such a classic that we all grew up with,” Tubbs said. “I knew it was a beast to take on. It’s a lot of pressure, because you know the audience is gonna expect certain things when they see ‘The Sound of Music.’”
One of the main differences between the 1965 movie and 1959 stage version is the placement of “My Favorite Things.” Instead of during the nighttime storm scene in the film (where Maria comforts the kids with it), the stage musical has Maria sing “Things” early on in the abbey, with Mother Abbess. The scene with the children is Maria doing “The Lonely Goatherd.”
“What’s really cool is, you have a couple options with the way the show is with the rights holder,” Tubbs said, noting a duet between Maria and Captain was originally “An Ordinary Couple” in the stage version and the more well-known “Something Good” in the film.
Spotlight paid a little extra to do the rights to include “Something Good” in the show.
“This cast, we’ve got a lot of new people on stage, which is always exciting,” Tubbs said. “I love working with kids; that’s always been a passion of mine. Usually, I choose to direct shows that have kids in them.”
“My Favorite Things” is one of those Christmas favorites that never mentions Christmas, but it’s become a holiday standard partly because people used to watch the movie every year around Christmas, she said. The lyrics also mention sleigh bells, packages tied up with strings, and snowflakes that stay on your nose and eyelashes.
Sierra first saw the show in Peoria in 1964 shortly before the classic film (starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer) came out. Then, she was 11.
“I remember being hugely excited that the movie was coming out,” she said recently. “ ‘Sound of Music,’ I was just over the moon.”
Sierra called the movie “fabulous,” and loved the stage version (which premiered in 1959) as well. She moved to the Quad Cities in 1987, for a teaching job at Black Hawk College, where she taught speech and broadcasting for 26 years.
One of her favorite theater roles was playing Golde in Music Guild’s “Fiddler on the Roof,” in 2005, opposite John VanDeWoestyne as Tevye. Her last stage role was as a nun in “Sister Act” in 2019 at Guild, so it was natural to get “in the habit” again for “Sound of Music.”
“I’ve gone from ingenue to mother to nun; I’m not sure where that progression happened,” Sierra said. “At least I got a promotion; before I was just the oldest nun in the convent. Now I’m in charge.”
Captain in just his second musical
Victor Angelo has been acting since 2014, but this is just his second musical, after “The Fantasticks” at Richmond Hill in Geneseo, in 2016. He’s been in a half dozen plays at RHP – his last one was playing the lead McMurphy in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in fall 2019. Both Angelo and Sierra are making their Spotlight Theatre debuts.
He works for Springfield Armory in Geneseo and has three kids (ages 13, 11 and 9).
“In general, I wanted to do more musicals,” Angelo said. “The Spotlight is such an awesome theater. I’ve helped on a few shows here.”
Sierra has really missed performing for audiences, and she’s happy to have met so many new people with “Sound of Music.”
Maynard was in the chorus for “Little Shop of Horrors” at Spotlight this fall, and her previous role to that was another iconic Julie Andrews part – as Mary Poppins in a Kewanee summer theater in 2017.
“Eliza Doolittle is next,” Maynard said of “My Fair Lady.”
The first musical she was ever cast in was “The Sound of Music” in 2001 in Hollywood, Florida, when she was not interested in musical theater, during her sophomore year of high school. She got cast as Mother Abbess, and then her mom moved and she had to go live with her father in Anchorage, Alaska, and never got to do the show.
“This is coming full circle here,” she said. “I did just about a musical a year since then.”
Sierra said her students used to ask how she got paid, and it’s simply from applause. “Getting paid is nice, but just getting that response from the audience – giving them something you know they’ve enjoyed, to me is payment enough,” she said.
Maynard (who’s a children’s instructor and director for Spotlight) works as a nonprofit consultant for Forefront – a statewide association to support nonprofits in Illinois, serving as west-central Illinois regional coordinator.
Maria in “Sound of Music” is a dream role for her.
“It’s such a beautiful role to sing,” Maynard said. “I think it would have been awesome to be a nun. My favorite thing in musicals – I do love the arias, but I love harmonizing. I just love singing with other people. That’s tradition, that’s my favorite.”
Sierra sings in the impressive opening nun number – with about a dozen women, four-part harmony, a cappella, in Latin. “It’s gorgeous,” she said.
The cast gets to perform without masks, and during rehearsals, it’s been up to individual people to wear masks (most everyone wears them off stage).
The youngest child in the show is 7-year-old Betsy Bergthold, who plays Gretl. “If she doesn’t steal your heart, you don’t have one,” Sierra said.
“They’re all great; they’re super talented,” Maynard said of the seven von Trapp kids. “The boys get a little rowdy together. They act like siblings. They bonded really well. They were picking on each other, being playful.”
Kurt and Gretl are played by real-life brother and sister, Ben and Betsy Bergthold, who are veterans of Spotlight kids’ shows, and their older sister Bella is also in the cast.
Spotlight is using pre-recorded tracks for the performance accompaniment, which has helped cast members rehearse at home. “You can get your timing down,” Sierra said. “Having the tracks, you can practice with them.”
“A demanding show”
“It’s such a demanding show,” Maynard said. “There’s a lot to tell, and a lot happens. From Maria’s perspective and even the Captain, there are huge changes, and we get like a song to experience that growth. I think that’s been the most challenging for me.”
Maria in Act II is written very differently, she added. “Her life is very different by that point, so over intermission, I have to experience a month of human emotion and development.”
Maynard has loved singing with the kids. “They’re so stinking cute,” she said.
Sierrra said she had to adjust singing while wearing the nun wimples (or headpieces).
“When you put those on, you don’t realize how they change your singing,” she said. “You’ve got your ears covered, and we were talking about how we can’t hear ourselves, and one of the little girls came up and said, ‘I can hear you Mother Abbess, and you sound beautiful.’ She was so sweet, and they’re so encouraging of each other, and of everybody around them. Sometimes, they’re like mini-grownups.”
Angelo said the biggest challenge was mostly juggling work and family commitments with rehearsals, plus finding time to take some dance lessons at QC Sparkle in NorthPark Mall (which he did earlier in the fall). They started “Sound of Music” rehearsals in early October.
Memorizing the Captain’s part also was tough, Angelo said. “The music is why I wanted to do the show. I get to sing “Edelweiss’; I love that.”
Maynard has mainly been music directing the Spotlight children’s shows, like the recent “Frozen Jr.” She will direct “Beauty and the Beast” and “101 Dalmatians” for kids in the spring.
“It’s just been a good experience for me – the first time in a new theater, you don’t know what to expect,” Sierra said.
With the show’s sunny optimism, sweetness and light (“Climb Ev’ry Mountain” inspiration and outwitting Nazis), some say it’s too saccharine, but we need that now during the holidays, after a very hard two years, Maynard said.
“It’s a nice reminder of being thankful for what we have, and that life will take crazy turns,” she said. “Lean on your found families and real families.”
Angelo said the Captain does change and soften over the course of the story, but he always maintains his principles. He mostly changes in interactions with his family, getting closer to the kids (literally and figuratively).
“It’s been wonderful – the cast and staff have been amazing,” Tubbs said. Two Augustana students have taken leadership roles — Jon Jaworowski is music director and Michael Tarchala is choreographer.
“Everybody’s doing their part and doing it so well,” she said. “It makes it just a dream for a director. It’s been fantastic. I’m excited for people to come and see it.”
Performances will be at 7 p.m. Dec. 3-4 (plus Dec. 10-11), and 2 p.m. on Dec. 5 and 12. Tickets are $20, available at thespotlighttheatreqc.com or by calling 309-912-7647.