Sunday, December 3, 2023

Hillbarn stages musical theater classic, 'The Sound of Music'

Sophia Alawi is an ebullient Maria. (Photo by Mark Kitaoka)

Because of its memorable music, a plot based on a true story and themes of the power of music and resilience, “The Sound of Music” remains a classic of American musical theater.

Hillbarn Theatre & Conservatory’s production does full justice to all of those qualities.

Set in a mountainous area of Austria in 1938, the book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse features a would-be nun, Maria Rainer (Sophia Alawi), whom the Mother Abbess (Sarah Jebian) says isn’t quite ready  for the convent life. Instead she sends Maria to the home of retired navy Captain Georg von Trapp (Jared Lee), a widower whose seven children need a governess.

There she finds a home where the children are treated like martinets with no opportunity for fun or play. Maria changes all that, mainly with music, teaching the children to sing through “Do-Re-Mi.”

Her outspokenness and the results she achieves with the children soon soften Captain von Trapp’s heart and blossom into love.

Their happiness is clouded by the Nazi incursion into Austria and an order for the captain to command a German ship. He’s greatly troubled because his loyalties lie entirely with Austria, but he fears the consequences if he doesn’t obey the order.

An opportunity to escape arises when his friend Max (Brad Satterwhite) arranges for the family to sing at an important music festival.  Singing “So Long, Farewell,” the family exits the stage one or two at a time and takes refuge in the abbey. They then decide to escape to the safety of Switzerland by crossing over Maria’s beloved mountains.

Directed by Dennis Lickteig, known to Gilbert and Sullivan fans for his work with Lamplighters in San Francisco, the cast is topnotch.

Chief among the standouts is Alawi’s ebullient Maria with her crystal clear soprano voice and captivating stage presence.

Another outstanding singer is Jebian as the wise, kindly Mother Abbess. Everyone else is good, too, especially the likable youngsters, making for full enjoyment of the music by Richard Rodgers with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.

And what music it is with such hummers as the title song along with “My Favorite Things,” “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” “Edelweiss” and more.

Jayne Zaban adds some nice choreographic touches, most notably in the dancing by telegram delivery boy Rolf (Nicki Weppner) and Liesl von Trapp (Chloe Fong) in “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.”

On the keyboard, Debra Lambert directs eight musicians in offstage. The serviceable set is by Hunter Jameson with sound by Joshua Price, lighting by Sarina Renteria and costumes by Stephanie Dittbern.

Running more than two hours and 45 minutes with one intermission, “The Sound of Music” will continue through Dec. 17 at Hillbarn Theatre. 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City.

For tickets and information, call (650) 349-6411, Ext. 2, or visit