When the Austrian-owned Sparkling Hill Resort approached Melina Moore with a request to put on The Sound of Music, the talented Vernon-based opera singer was already thinking world class.
A Juilliard-trained performer, Moore has had the opportunity to work with a wide array of talent and knew exactly who to call to put the region’s best foot forward and truly do justice to the Austrian Christmas tradition.
“It is the perfect show, not only for Christmas, but for Sparkling Hill,” said Moore, who most recently directed three sold-out performances of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance at the Powerhouse Theatre in Vernon in May. “This is unlike any production I’ve ever taken on, however, as it is by far the biggest.”
Pulling in part-time Okanagan resident, part-time Londoner Lisa Schofield to choreograph the music-laden production, not to mention musical director Carol Colpitts, who retired from the Vancouver theatre scene where she staged over 50 musicals, and Matthew Bissett, artistic director of Burnaby Lyric Opera, who is serving double duty as director and lighting designer, Moore has also lined up conductor Rosemary Thomson, who will lead the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra in the performance.
“This is probably the most exciting part of this endeavour,” said Moore. “For the first time ever, the OSO will be playing a full musical. It’s never been done here before.”
Based on the true story of the von Trapp Family Singers, though reputedly a well-polished version of the actual clan, trying to assemble enough performers to replicate the story — first a stage production, then a movie — attracted performers from Revelstoke to Penticton.
“We had auditioners turn out in droves when the show was announced this past summer,” said Moore.“Our directors had tough decisions to make. The casting is just perfect, and everyone suits their part unbelievably well. Right from our littlest cast member, five-year-old Ava McDougall, playing the role of Gretl von Trapp, all the way up through the ages. It is a dream cast.”
Directing both those with little performing experience to those with a CV full of local hits has made the show a rewarding challenge for musical director Colpitts.
“You wear a lot of different hats,” she said. “Last (month) I was teaching the Captain how to play the guitar, then I was helping the children and then I was with Maria.”
From the music to the costumes, the production acknowledges the popular position the von Trapps hold in our collective culture and both Colpitts and costume designer Hazel Rodgers have tried very hard to stick closely to the themes and feel of the movie.
“I do tell the children they can’t blow the lyrics because the audience will start singing along,” said Colpitts, who occasionally jumps in when professional performers needing accompaniment tour through the valley.
Equally difficult has been costuming a cast of such vast proportions at Christmas time on six weeks notice. Rodgers can’t simply go out and find a wedding dress as she’s got to try to match the simple vintage number Maria wears in the movie version. She’s been sewing it herself, while doing the costumes for the Kelowna Actors Studio’s Miracle on 34th Street.
Now the full-time costume designer at the Kelowna Actors Studio, Rodgers must balance two productions. Sound of Music includes some 62 costumes, but the Actors Studio production is even larger. Thankfully, the Kelowna studio previously staged The Sound of Music and has made its costumes available to the production.
“I started in Montreal working on the Just for Laughs Festival doing all of their galas. We would hear who was coming the night before they arrived and have to be ready. That was way more stressful,” said Rodgers. “I love Christmas and the idea that you have a happy musical to go to. I don’t try to reinvent the wheel. People are expecting to see what they saw in the movie and then they will see it.”
As for Moore, she freely admits she’s built herself a good gig. Not only is she producing the show, she is starring in it as Maria.
“I absolutely adore Maria,” said Moore, the current artist-in-residence at Sparkling Hill Resort, who has been performing at the multi-million dollar Swarovski resort and spa since its opening in 2009. “I love her innocence and her joy for life and the fact that she means so well, but she’s always getting into trouble, which I can relate to.
“Her trepidation and confusion about her feelings for the Captain as she’s falling in love with him, it’s so beautiful and so real.”
The Sound of Music takes the Vernon Performing Arts Centre stage for three performances, Dec. 7 and 8 at 8 p.m., and Dec. 8 at 2 p.m. Tickets are on sale at the Ticket Seller box office, 250-549-7469 or online at www.ticketseller.ca.
A reprise performance will be presented at Sparkling Hill Resort on New Year’s Eve for in-house guests of the resort. Visit www.sparklinghill.com to book the special New Year’s Eve weekend package, which includes the performance.
—With files from Jennifer Smith at the Kelowna Capital News and The Morning Star.