A very von Trapp Christmas in the Okanagan Valley
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.
As a globe-trotting 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’s the first time the Sound of Music will play with a full symphony in the Valley,” she said. “So this is very exciting and a very big deal.”
Pulling in part-time Valley 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, Moore deftly lined up the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and director Rosemary Thomson before assembling her cast.
“We have the cast of 30, then the full symphony and a fairly big crew as well,” said Moore. “ So it’s a very big production.”
Based on the true story of the Trapp Family Singers—though reputedly a well-polished version of the actual clan—the von Trapps are as varied as they are many, though they unite around the common bond of music. Trying to assemble enough performers to replicate the story—first a stage production, then a movie—thus attracted performers from Revelstoke to Penticton. The cast ranges from a five-year-old with little performing experience to those with a CV of local hits that could fill a bill in and of themselves, making it challenging for the musical director.
“You wear a lot of different hats,” said Colpitts. “Last night 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 costume, the production acknowledges the popular position the von Trapps hold in our collective culture and both Colpitts and costume designer Hazel Rodgers 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 occassionally 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. This one includes some 62 costumes, but the Actors Studio production is even larger. Thankfully, the Actors Studio previously staged The Sound of Music and has made its costumes available to the production; though Rodgers isn’t phased.
“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.
“…I love Christmas and the idea that you have a happy musical to go to,” she added. “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.”
The production itself will have several Kelowna actors including three of the child characters. Leisl von Trapp, the oldest von Trapp, will be played by Ella Kuntz and Friedrich by Jaxon Jensen. Rolf, Liesl’s love interest, is Kelowna’s Justin Swanson’s role.
As for Moore, she freely admits she’s built herself a good gig.
“I absolutely adore Maria,” said Moore. “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, its so beautiful and so real.”
Moore is known for passionate performances and appears to be performing well as this production’s producer.
The Sound of Music, featuring the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra, plays the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre this Dec. 7-8, sponsored by Sparkling Hill Resort. The cast will repeat the performance for the Sparkling Hill guests—a closed event—on New Year’s Eve.
For tickets to the Vernon performances call 250-549-SHOW.