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Climbing Mountains: Petaluma actors overcome obstacles in staging Broadway classic

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PLANNING TO GO?

What: Rogers & Hammerstein’s ‘The Sound of Music’

When: Nov. 22-Dec. 8 (subject to change should PG&E shutdowns impact the production)

7:30 p.m. shows on November 22, 23, 29, 30, Dec. 5-7; 1:30 p.m. shows on Nov. 23, 24, 30, Dec. 1, 7 and 8.

Where: Evert Person Theatre at Sonoma State University. 1801 E Cotati Ave, Rohnert

Park.

Admission: $10-$25, available at TheatreArts.santarosa.edu/buy-tickets-online and at the door.

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.”

PLANNING TO GO?

What: Rogers & Hammerstein’s ‘The Sound of Music’

When: Nov. 22-Dec. 8 (subject to change should PG&E shutdowns impact the production)

7:30 p.m. shows on November 22, 23, 29, 30, Dec. 5-7; 1:30 p.m. shows on Nov. 23, 24, 30, Dec. 1, 7 and 8.

Where: Evert Person Theatre at Sonoma State University. 1801 E Cotati Ave, Rohnert

Park.

Admission: $10-$25, available at TheatreArts.santarosa.edu/buy-tickets-online and at the door.

“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.”

As Rolf, the young love interest for the oldest Von Trapp daughter Liesl, Purcell gets to sing and dance in one of the show’s most endearing and delightful numbers, “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” and also plays the show’s most heartbreaking anti-hero, as a young man struggling between his “Nazi youth” training and his affection for Liesl.

I just started at the JC,” says Purcell. “This is my first college production, though growing up in Petaluma, I’ve done a lot of Cinnabar show, me and Asher. I heard they were doing a musical, and so I auditioned. My own favorite moment is when I come in at the end and shine my flashlight on the family, where they’re hiding, and I’m planning on alerting the Nazis. Rolf is pretty bad, actually. But he has his moments. It’s a lot of fun to play, that scene.”

For Perrreira, playing the kind but acerbically calculating Max Detweiler has been a pleasure because, for one thing, he gets many of the best lines in the show, and also gets to play several scenes with Heather Buck, as the Baroness Elsa Schräder. Buck played Maria in the 2013 Mountain Play production, and was last seen in the area as Nellie in Spreckels’ Theatre Company’s 2018 production of “South Pacific.”

“This is my third year at the JC, but my first production there,” says Perreira, who started in theater while at Casa Grande High School. “My favorite part of ‘The Sound of Music’ is singing my first song, ‘How Can Love Survive,’ with Heather. It’s basically me provoking Elsa, whose engaged to the Captain, saying, ‘Hey, you’re a bunch of millionaires, you’re all rich, and you obviously love the Captain, but in this world, things don’t always work out so well.’ It’s a fun song to sing. I get to dance around a bit, and jump on a bench. It’s a great moment, and a song a lot of people don’t know because it wasn’t in the movie.”

The cast believes that, though “The Sound of Music” is not a traditional holiday show, it will play well here at the start of the holiday season.

“I hear from so many people that this is their favorite musical of all time,” says Evans. “It still feels contemporary, too, with the political climate what it is.”

“It’s a musical about being thankful for what you have,” says Perreira. “It’s about not taking anything for granted. Thanksgiving’s coming up. Some people have to climb a mountain, literal or metaphorical mountain, just to have freedom and a shot at happiness. So yeah, this show is a celebration of family and freedom and love and community.”

Lee points out that six members of the cast lost their homes in the 2017 fires, and the Kincade fire brought up a lot for them, but it only made the cast closer as they teamed up to help each other during the recent evacuations and power losses.

“All of these issues with the fires, it’s just made us work harder,” says Berezniy. “On the week we couldn’t come to rehearsal because the school was closed, I just made myself rehearse every day, because if I didn’t I think I’d have gone a little crazy. Once we got back, we really all felt closer, having gone through this weird thing together. And now we get to do ‘The Sound of Music’ so, we’re all feeling pretty fortunate, in all kinds of different ways.”

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