The Grove is alive with the Sound of Music
High school sets its sights high, tackling Rogers and Hammerstein's classic this spring
This weekend, Forest Grove High School will come alive with 'The Sound of Music' as the school's drama department takes the stage for a large-scale production of Rogers and Hammerstein's classic.
The annual musical has become a celebrated tradition for the school and the community at large, but staging 'The Sound of Music' is a tremendous undertaking even for professional theater groups. The show features some 60 students in the cast, plus an additional 30 crew members. The custom-built set is rigged to rotate to reveal multiple settings, and includes a sprawling staircase.
Adding to the complexity of the undertaking, the show is also the first musical under the direction of Barry Berdahl, the school's choir teacher, who was handed drama duties when massive budget cuts resulted in the elimination of several performing arts faculty positions.
Berdahl directed a small-scale production of the non-musical 'Arsenic and Old Lace' last year, but the teacher says even that experience couldn't help him prepare for the massive scale of 'The Sound of Music.'
Luckily for Berdahl, students and parents have stepped up to help lighten his load and, in turn, show how valuable the program is to the community. Students have taken on leadership roles, guiding those with less experience through the intense project.
Parents have shown up to do everything from constructing sets to cooking dinners for the students.
'It's kind of a community builder,' says Berdahl. 'When you look around and see how many people are helping out, it's kind of humbling. People have just stepped up and taken on all kinds of burdens. It makes things so much better. It's the same thing as sports and music. When there's a problem, people really rally.'
The story is, of course, a familiar one. The fact-based tale of an Austrian widower and naval captain who, as World War II looms, falls in love with the nun tasked with caring for his seven children became an instant classic when it hit Broadway in 1959. The 1965 film starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer (who won his first Oscar Sunday night at the age of 82) was an Academy Awards darling, and has become one of the most-watched film musicals of all time. Songs like 'My Favorite Things,' 'Do-Re-Mi,' and the title tune have become modern standards.
Filling in for Julie
Those are big shoes to fill. But perhaps the most challenging aspect lies in recreating and reshaping the iconic role of Maria, the precocious and loving would-be nun around whom the show revolves.
For junior Elena Torry-Schrag, filling in for Julie Andrews has been a delight.
'This is definitely a dream role. I love how the character seems like a little girl at the beginning, just wanting to fit in with all the other nuns even though she is so different,' says Torry-Schrag. 'The prospect of falling in love is so scary for her, but she does go back and face her fears and becomes a strong, protective mother.'
To prepare for her role, Torry-Schrag says she dug into the character's history, but decided not to review the film version in order to avoid impersonation.
'I didn't want to mimic (Julie Andrews) in any sort of way. I wanted to make this my own and put my own spin on it,' says Torry-Schrag. 'I like to think that I've created my own role.'
Though she is front and center in the performance, Torry-Schrag insists that the show's real stars are the elementary students cast as the rambunctious Von Trapp children.
'They're so cute. They're definitely stealing the show. No doubt about it,' says Torry-Schrag.
With its tremendous cast and crew, Torry-Schrag and Berdahl both agree that the production speaks to the importance of drama in schools, both in its capacity to let students express themselves and as a way to teach the value of teamwork and camaraderie.
'It's really, really important to the students. It means so much to them,' says Berdahl. 'I feel like we have to do the best we can for these guys. Theater has sort of been their home. That's where they found a home in the school. This is their whole thing, their main thing. This is where they want to be.'
For Torry-Schrag, it's an experience she says will stick with her - and with her fellow students - for a lifetime, and not simply because the songs are the sort that stick in the listener's head for a lifetime.
'After you play a role, part of it goes with you to the next role,' says Torry-Schrag. 'I think it's cool that I'll always have a little bit of Maria with me, and her love of singing and working with kids.'