Mon, Oct 04, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Filling young minds with the sound of music

There can be few better introductions to what makes theater matter than the current production of "The Sound of Music"

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

Five-year-old Mary Easterly, center, has established herself as one of the biggest stars of the show The Sound of Music.

PHOTO COURTESY OF NEW ASPECT

There is laughter and there are tears, a sentimental nostalgia for old songs that haven't lost their appeal despite how cheesy we say there are -- and teeth gritted at the appalling acoustics for which the Sun Yat-sen Memorial is famous.

The Sound of Music, billed as the first "full Broadway musical" in Taiwan, premiered in Taipei on Friday. It is set to run until Oct. 17.

There are many reasons why one could dismiss this claim as advertising hype, but that has little to do with the performers, who did a marvelous job of making this somewhat dated musical come alive.

The overall impression was of a highly professional amateur production, despite the fact that the sound and lighting left was under-par and the way in which the subtitles were incorporated was a disgrace for a theater that claims to be of international standard.

One is also inclined to wonder whether the upcoming renovations of the venue will be able to do much about these problems. On the other hand the changes could at least find room for an orchestra. In the current production, it was squeezed in between the seats and the stage.

But, putting aside these unpleasant reflections on the still woefully inadequate theatrical hardware available to performers in Taiwan, it must be said that this production of The Sound of Music provides a delightful evening of entertainment.

Much of the credit for this must go to Mary Easterly, aged five, who plays Gretl Von Trapp and elicited coos of delight from the audience. A very small child, on a big stage, singing -- "the sun has gone to bed and so must I" -- got most of the audience smiling through their tears.

Jennifer Semrick is a delightfully believable Maria, her style of performance, in which she successfully incorporates the rhythms of speech into songs, is particularly attractive. It provided vigor for well-known songs that are thereby often dismissed. Semrick, however, was able to underline the quality of Oscar Hammerstein's lyrics.

The rest of the cast provided a professional performance that cannot be faulted, though unimaginative set design and the small stage conspired to make the Austrian Alps look rather claustrophobic.

Having criticized the show for having some of the flaws of an amateur production, it must be added that it also has many of the virtues. Foremost of these is intimacy. This show is an ideal introduction to those special qualities that make theater different from cinema and television.

This reviewer has commented in the past that Taiwan theater is often too imitative of electronic media in every aspect of its presentation. This production of The Sound of Music is theater as it should be: it is about real people on a stage creating a dialogue with an audience. And for all the minor complaints, it achieves this remarkably well.

There have been few better introductions to what theater should be about, especially for young children, than The Sound of Music at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall.

Tickets are NT$800 to NT$3,600, available through ERA ticketing system, Kingstone, Hess and Senseio bookstores.

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