I used to be a regular audience member at Contra Costa Civic Theatre productions back when I taught in El Cerrito and lived in Richmond. But I’d sort of forgotten about it since moving to Berkeley ten years ago. It was always a charming production with a range of talents, which is de rigeur for community theater.
But last night I was treated to a professionalism that I didn’t quite recognize. CCCT’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music was top notch, featuring talented actors and singers. Except for the fact that the two elderly and hard-of-hearing ladies seated next to me talked fairly frequently throughout the show, I felt like I was attending a professional theater production in a major city. And heck, I’ve heard similar conversations at the Aurora, which is far from community theater.
The opening number sung by the nun chorus was breathtaking and set the tone for the rest of the show. Leading them was the Mother Abbess, Marie Plette, who actually had a long career in the opera and is still hitting notes with gusto. Interesting side note: the last time she performed in musical theater was when she was in high school playing none other than the Mother Abbess.
But the rest of the ladies in wimples were no slouches. Notable among them was Berkeley Broadway Singer Mary Coleston, who has also been in her fair share of productions. I had never seen this play on stage, but I probably watched the film twenty times, and I remember wanting to get through the nun parts to get to what I thought was the good stuff with the Von Trapp children. But I could have listened to the nun chorus all night!
Sarah Sloane made her CCCT debut as the show’s star, the headstrong and will o’ the wisp Maria, and she carried her scenes with great poise and sparkle.
Of the twenty-seven roles played (quite an ambitious feat in itself), all but four were making their CCCT debut, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot of performing experience. In fact, arrive early for the show if you want to be able to read their extensive bios before curtain time. The cast represents a well of singing and acting talent.
Of course the children were adorable. In community theater, one doesn’t necessarily expect to get such young performers who can also sing, dance, and act, but this cast did a wonderful job and never relied solely on being cute. Liesl was not played by a teenager but by Grace Lilette Lorenzana, a junior high school teacher with a lovely voice who played sixteen quite convincingly. I freely admit that my eyes teared up in sheer joy during “So Long, Farewell,” which was my favorite tune from this musical when I listened to the record as a child.
All the children remembered their lines, sang beautifully, and kept up with their adult cast mates, but I was particularly charmed by the luminous sixth-grader Maya Marinez-Krams, who played Brigitta.
I was surprised to discover that the play is not the same as the film and had three songs I’d never heard before. And I learned only after the show that the music was live, accompanied by two pianists hidden in the eaves.
If you’re a fan of this moving and popular musical, you must go see this production. It’s playing through July 19. For more info, go to www.ccct.org or call at 510.524.9132.