Climbing Mountains: Petaluma actors overcome obstacles in staging Broadway classic
In Rogers & Hammerstein’s cherished classic “The Sound of Music,” the Von Trapp family must endure countless hardships - loss of their mother, a strict and militaristic father, dog whistles, play clothes made out of curtains, occupation of their country by Nazis, and even, famously, certain iconic mountains and streams - on its way to finding its dream. The same could be true of the cast and crew of Santa Rosa Junior College’s current production of “The Sound of Music,” scheduled to open this weekend at the Evert Person Theater on the Sonoma State University Campus in Rohnert Park. The show, which features several actors from Petaluma in its 100-person team of performers, musicians, designers and technicians, has faced power shut downs, fire evacuations, canceled rehearsals, and a cloud of uncertainty as it prepares to open one of the most beloved and inspirational musicals of all time.
“We couldn’t get on campus for a big chunk of our prep time, during the evacuations,” notes Leslie McCauley, chair of the SRJC theater department, standing in the aisle of the Person Theatre, where a magnificent set of staircases and pillars has been built on the SSU stage. “We lost two weeks of build time, so we’re taking what were going to be the first two dress rehearsals and we’ll be using them for tech. We’re having to bump everything up. It’s been a challenge. But everyone is so dedicated to this show, to making it the best “Sound of Music” the North Bay has seen in a long time.”
With the new PG&E shutdowns scheduled for this week, the challenges continue, though McCauley recognizes that this particular show is not at all alone.
“So many theaters lost performances this last time,” she says. “We lost performances of ‘The Good Doctor’ with the power outage before that one. It’s getting difficult to do theater in Sonoma County in the fall. But we’re here and we’re thrilled. It’s a beautiful theater, morale is high, and we’re excited to be telling this story that’s all about surviving obstacles through resourcefulness and love.”
Director Laura Downing Lee agrees.
“It’s a big show, with so many moving parts, but we’re all just so happy with what we’re creating together,” she says, taking a seat in the lobby during dinner break, along with some of Petaluma-based “Sound of Music” cast members. Representing Petaluma in the show are Patrice Evans (who plays Frau Schmidt, the Von Trapp’s housekeeper), Asher Berezniy (Curt, one of the Von Trapp children), Ian Purcell (Rolf) and Zac Perrreira (Max Detweiller, Captain Von Trapp’s friend). “It’s been an absolute joy working with all of these actors,” says Lee. “Patrice was in my first production at the JC, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ so it’s really fun to be able to work together again. Ian I’ve never worked with before, but he came in and just blew us away with his singing and dancing skills. Asher has been a student of mine. He’s a very good technical actor, and he’s taken on a pretty big challenge, playing a child in this show, and he’s more than risen to the occasion. And Zac is a music major, with a stunning, stunning voice, we are lucky to have borrowed him from the music department.”
“The Sound of Music,” of course, is set in Austria at the beginning of WWII, and is the story of Maria, a music-loving?governess who falls in love with the father of her charges. It features such songs as “My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Me,” “So Long, Farewell,” “Edelwiess” and, of course, “The Sound of Music” and “Climb Every Mountain.”
“I’ve done several shows at the JC before, but not for a few years,” notes Evans, who auditioned for “Sound of Music” in part because it was supposed to the inaugural show at the JC’s renovated Burbank Auditorium. Already long-?delayed, the opening of the refurbished facility has been delayed again. “But I love ‘The Sound of Music,’ and I just wanted to be in the ensemble somewhere,” she says. “Nothing I do as Frau Schmidt is as much fun as just being backstage listening to the music.”
For Berezniy, who last appeared in the JC’s spring production of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” it was the chance to play one of the Von Trapp children that he found most appealing, admitting that this is something of a dream role.
“I really wanted to do a classic, classic musical,” he says. “’The Sound of Music’ is about as classic as it gets. But I really wanted to play a kids role, since I have such a baby face. I thought I should use it to my advantage. I actually was going for Friederich, the older boy in the family, but I got Curt, who’s supposed to be 11. It’s actually harder than you’d think to be a child, as an adult actor, because you have to regress a little bit. But I think I’m doing okay, and it’s a lot of fun. My favorite moment is when Maria comes back from the Abbey and all the children run and embrace her. It’s a moment that’s filled with so much joy and love and connecting as a family.”