After nearly a year of limited productions, Stage West Playhouse is back in full-force. This season’s schedule has something that will appeal to almost everyone; From stand-up comedians and pop singers to musicals and dramas.
Stage West’s first production of the season is The Sound of Music. It has a cast of twenty-five with Mitchell Gonzalez as director and his wife, Brooke Gonzalez, as musical director.
Gonzalez has been involved in theater “Since I could walk,” as he would say. Not only has he directed plays, but he is also an actor. Since the cast features a large number of children, he was chosen as director because of his long experience working with young people. He and his wife both enjoy children’s theater because they like to see the actors grow.
He is excited about directing The Sound of Music because, “It’s very classic. This is an example of a perfect musical and one of my favorites. Being able to bring my own vision of it to life has been so much fun,” Gonzalez shares.
Since most of the cast have been in shows before, there aren’t as many obstacles to overcome as there would be working with novice actors. Gonzalez admits, however, that working during the Covid-19 pandemic has been challenging. “The most rewarding thing about directing is to see the growth in the actors. The most challenging thing is the long hours and obtaining funding,” Gonzalez concludes.
For Brittany Gonzalez who plays the lead, Maria, the most challenging thing about the part were the expectations – living up to someone like Julie Andrews. Ms. Gonzalez has been acting since she was fourteen years old, so about thirteen years now.
“She (Andrews) definitely influenced me, but I always try to make sure that I’m not necessarily copying (the actor). I wanted to make sure that I put my own love into the part.”
Ms. Gonzalez finds that memorizing the lines is not that difficult, but being able to focus on her lines when she’s rehearsing with the other actors can sometimes be challenging. The most rewarding thing about acting is that she likes to brighten people’s day. “I like giving them that moment to remember the good old days. Doing a classic like this is always rewarding.”
Brady Lay, who plays the part of Baron Von Trapp, has been acting since fifth grade, so about 35 years now, and has done both professional and community theater. In the 1990s he toured with a group called The Young Americans. He played in Las Vegas and performed in the half-time show at the Olympics, among other places.
Lay’s community theater work has included A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. In addition to acting, he has directed plays such as Fiddler on the Roof and Spamalot. He also teaches music and theater at Crystal River High School.
“The most rewarding thing about acting is that you get to be somebody you’re not. You can do something you wouldn’t normally do. It’s also a way to make new friends. We (the cast members) become a family. Also interacting with the audience,” Lay remarks.
With a full time job and a family, time management can be challenging. However, theater has also brought his family closer together. Lay’s thirteen-year old daughter is in the show playing one of the nuns and his wife has been music director for some of the shows at Stage West.
Eighteen-year-old Matthew Bracker plays fourteen-year-old Friedrich, one of the older Von Trapp children. “It is a little bit challenging playing someone four years younger than yourself,” Bracker admits. He’s been acting since fifth grade and has been working under Gonzalez’s direction since eighth grade Bracker plans to major in Journalism in college but may minor in Theater. “I’m always going to want theater to be in my life in some aspect. Mitch has helped to unlock this passion for theater that I have.”
The most rewarding thing as an actor for Matthew is going on stage and looking out into the audience. And the most challenging? “I think there’s always that fear that anything can happen on stage. You don’t get any second chances like in TV or film,” Bracker concludes.
Darren Griffis plays the part of Maximillian Detweiler, a family friend. He enjoys the part for several reasons. “Max was a fairly easy role for me to get into because he’s similar to my personality, which is one of the draws to his character for me. I tend to be a laid back person who likes to have fun. Also, he gets to do two upbeat, clever songs. Maximillian is a complex character. He’s pivotal in helping the family escape from the Nazis. The challenging part was some of the long speeches where I have to remember the children’s names in order,” comments Griffis.
Like the other actors, Griffis finds several things rewarding about acting. “One is the camaraderie. Getting to know new people, working with them and seeing the show come together is a lot of fun and it forms some interesting bonds between people. The other thing is entertaining the audience. There’s nothing quite like watching an audience really enjoying a show, helping them escape from reality for just a little time,” Griffis concludes.
And indeed, the performance of The Sound of Music on Friday, January 21st was a 2½ hour tour-de-force that transported the audience back to 1930s Austria. From the opening vocals of the nuns chanting Latin in crystal-clear acapella voices to the Von Trapp family singing “So Long, Farewell” at the conclusion of the play, the show was a delight that truly was an escape from reality.
Outstanding among the female singers were Beth Evans as the Mother Abbess and Brittany Gonzalez as Maria. Both women were able to hold the notes of the songs for what seemed like forever, without taking a breath or faltering. Brady Lay’s strong baritone voice portrayed the dynamic Captain Von Trapp and was a perfect accompaniment to Maria’s soprano voice.
From the smoothness of the dialogue and the fact that you didn’t notice a single off-key note, you could tell that the actors had rehearsed for countless hours learning the songs and rehearsing their lines. The six young people, ranging in age from seven to eighteen, who played the Von Trapp children, showed a professionalism beyond their years, considering that for some of them this was their first time on stage. One song especially stood out, the famous “Do-Re-Mi.” With the tricky lyrics and the fast tempo, the children could have easily messed up, but they were spot-on.
Also enjoyable was the choreography. The intimate waltz performed by Liesl and Rolf, played by Olivia Carr and Kyle Billington was a pleasure to watch. The traditional Austrian folk dance that Maria, the Captain and the guests at his party performed was intricate and well-executed.
What made the show more intimate for the audience was Mitchell Gonzalez’s direction, utilizing the space between the stage and the audience and the aisles for some of the action. At the beginning, the nuns walk solemnly down the aisles to take their places on stage. In the next scene, Maria leaves the stage to stand at the footlights within almost arms-reach of the front row to sing the spirited “I Have Confidence.” In the final scene, the Nazi storm troopers run through the aisles searching for the Von Trapps after they’ve escaped, making the audience feel their threat.
Probably the most outstanding aspect of the play was the nuances and ranges of emotion shown by the actors – the chemistry between Maria and the children and between Maria and the Captain. Then there was the somewhat formal, and even icy, relationship between the Captain and Elsa, the woman he had intended to marry. The relationship between Von Trapp and Detweiler, his friend who tried to convince the Captain to just “get along” with the Nazis, was subtle and understated. In short, watching the show you felt as if you were looking in on people’s private lives rather than attending a play.
If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to see The Sound of Music at Stage West, there will be three more performances this weekend – Friday at 7:30 pm, Saturday at 2:00 pm and Sunday at 2:00 pm. You can purchase tickets online at www.stagewestflorida.com or by calling the box office at 352-683-5113. Box office hours are Tuesday – Saturday, 10 am – 2 pm. The theater is located at 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd. in Spring Hill.