The Sound of … the Crescenta Valley


A paramount moment of the play is the performance of “Edelweiss” by the Von Trapp Family Singers.
Photo provided by Carter THOMAS


A well beloved story known to young and old, “The Sound of Music” was the most recent victory in local resident and director Carter Thomas’s mission to bring local theater to La Crescenta and the surrounding areas. The director and his crew teamed up to solve a problem – like Maria – by performing on the Highlands Church stage where previous productions of “A Christmas Carol” had brought holiday cheer to the community and a new angle to Charles Dickens’ most famous story.

Thomas’s history with theater in Glendale did not begin with the Highlands Church, however. He closely worked with the Glendale Centre Theatre for years in acting, writing and directing roles. Yet Thomas was not the only one with roots in “The Sound of Music” cast and crew. Few shows went up in the GCT without choreography and light design crewmember Paul Ried in the light booth and ensemble member Kyle Kelley acting. Of the 31 person cast, 13 had been in some form of GCT production before, three of whom received well-deserved top billing: Elizabeth Eden (Maria), Jim Meade (Captain Von Trapp) and Rebecca Allfrey (Liesel). While the beloved Glendale Centre Theatre closed its doors during the pandemic and its future remains unknown, it is reassuring that its spirit remains alive in the cast and crew gathered within Highlands Church.

On Aug. 4 and 6, this cast and crew told the story of flighty young nun-to-be Maria, who must prove herself by fulfilling the role of governess for Navy Captain Von Trapp’s seven children, infamous for chasing out previous nannies with their shenanigans. Maria finds kindred spirits in these children by teaching them to sing and bringing music back into their widower father’s life. When the love they find is threatened by the Nazi regime they, like their real-world counterparts, must escape to Switzerland. The last performances are on Aug. 11 and Aug. 12.

While each of the cast members handled the Von Trapp story exceptionally well, three characters in particular stole the show.

As Captain Von Trapp, Jim Meade carried himself with the highest discipline, so much so that at the moment the character’s cold façade finally breaks – during the song “Edelweiss,” a song of love for Von Trapp’s homeland of Austria, now held under Nazi rule – and he begins to struggle with the song, the audience practically held their breath to hear him. This moment showed why Meade had been cast in this role. While Captain Von Trapp can be easily overlooked in the face of the more dynamic Maria and Von Trapp children, the themes of the show pivots on his love for his country and his family pitted against one another as he makes the difficult choice between safety and the greater good, knowing that either way Austria is no longer his homeland. These emotions fuel “Edelweiss” as the lead-in to the climax of the play.

Rebecca Allfrey pulled double duty this show as both actress and choreographer, but that did not stop her from stealing the audience’s heart as Leisel, the eldest of the Von Trapp children. The moment the audience knew she was perfect for the role came during “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” which featured both complex duet choreography between Leisel and her boyfriend and a better look at Leisel’s character. Allfrey portrayed her with a mix of naivety and desire for freedom that every 16-year-old can relate to. While audience members who knew of her boyfriend’s allegiance to the Nazi party cannot help but see the irony in his offering guidance to her, with Allfrey’s portrayal one cannot help but wish Leisel every happiness in this scene and beyond.

Last but not least was Elizabeth Eden, who played Maria. With Julie Andrews originating the character, Eden had big shoes to fill. However, the actress proved once before that she does not need shoes, or even legs, when she played Ariel’s little sister Arista in Musical Theatre West’s “The Little Mermaid.” From the moment she entered the stage, Eden’s bright eyes and rosy cheeks captured the audience’s attention in much the same way that Maria herself did the abbey, never quite staying still as she sang the titular song of “The Sound of Music,” quite at home in the production’s beautifully designed imitation stained glass window mountains. While Maria played governess, Eden exuded warmth that made the audience understand the younger characters’ affinity for their nanny as she laughed and acted out songs like “The Lonely Goatherd” to soothe the children’s fears.

The children themselves, many of whom boasted budding careers already, performed their parts well right down to the youngest, Everly Laing, who played Gretl. During “So Long, Farewell,” she sang the final part – “The sun has gone to bed and so must I” – at the top of her tiny voice to the sound of a resounding “Aww” and raucous applause from the audience.

Those familiar only with the movie were pleasantly surprised by the more active roles taken on by Baroness Elsa von Schraeder, Maria’s rival in love, and smooth speaker Max Detweiler, who helped facilitate the Von Trapp family’s escape from Austria. The film cut two songs from the stage play that the well-to-do pair sing with Captain Von Trapp, “How Can Love Survive?” which is a lighthearted look at how love is different when there are no obstacles to overcome, and “There’s No Way to Stop It,” which encourages the captain not to fight any political changes that come his way. In spite of the characters’ moral standings, they were a delight to watch with actress Kara Gibson bringing unflappable class to Elsa and Guy Noland presenting a cad with a heart of gold who was fun to hate.

While the play did give a nod to the film with a short wig in the vein of movie Maria for Elizabeth Eden’s character, the Highlands production stood on its own with some changes from the stageplay. Carter Thomas chose to rewrite certain portions of dialogue. When asked, he said he “mainly wanted this show to move and have pacing … everyone has the movie in their minds, [which] has such amazing pacing.” The hope was that this “fresh” version was more “energized” than the original Rogers and Hammerstein production, whose runtime lists as 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Thomas’s version, which was roughly 2 hours and 15 minutes, moved audience members along the plot in such a natural way it was easy to miss the passing time and, for all but the most diligent “Sound of Music” fan, any changes.

With “The Sound of Music” emphasis on the family one chooses and not equivocating on one’s beliefs, the play’s message still rings true 64 years after its Broadway debut.

Yet for one cast member, the play’s tribute to the love of music is extra special. Shirley Sycamore, who played one of the Abbey nuns, was Carter Thomas’s first grade teacher. Her 40-year teaching career at Monte Vista included her own directing credits, facilitating elementary school shows and eventually becoming chorus director of the school. She attended all of Thomas’s earliest shows when he toured with the cast of Peter Pan as a child and expresses pride at his most recent accomplishments. She hopes to see him gain the career his dedication and talents deserve.

The community will be keeping an eye on these talented folks. It is sad to bid this wonderful cast “auf Wiedersehen, goodbye.”

The final performances of “The Sound of Music” at Highlands Church is Friday, Aug. 11 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 12 at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at