Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Whistle Blower's 'Sound of Music'

Austin Colby and Paige Silvester
Photo: Matthew Murphy
by Jennifer Haaland

Austin Colby says it's a story about risk with a sense of imminent danger. Next week's ASU Gammage tour production of "Sound of Music" reads that way to teen bent on manhood.  Rolf, the telegram-delivering new Nazi on whom a critical plot resolution turns, is played by Colby.

"It's more than a fluffy family show," he said, suggesting this tour's entire presentation, not just Rolf's perspective, has re-focused the traditional warm, fuzzy telling. "Maria's risk leaving the convent, the danger of the captain resisting, a family's daring choices..."

The story of the von Trapp family and their problematic governess Maria became wildly famous in 1959 when the Rodgers and Hammerstein gem debuted on Broadway and enjoyed five Tony Awards.  It soared even higher after the Julie Andrews / Christopher Plummer movie became an all-time most recognized film in history, nabbing another five prestigious awards, Oscars, in 1965.

"Rolf is trapped in the middle of the shift," Colby maintained. "The Anschluss (which was the annexation of Austria into Germany) has just begun. Every time Rolf comes on stage it's because he needs to issue a warning...  to Liesl to guard her innocence, to the Captain to protect his family, in the abbey garden warning the Nazis.

"I think to Rolf, it's all about the power," said Colby. "Sure, he likes flirting with Leisl, but our director, Jack O'Brien, has done a fantastic job coaching us. It's not so bubble-gummy. They are both coming of age in their sexuality, and it's beyond big hormone stuff.  The main thing is, he loves schooling Liesel. He wants to impress her. He wants to be a man."

Paige Silvester plays Liesl to Colby's Rolf. As the innocent, love-struck eldest vonTrapp daughter, she described this production in terms like "fresh and lively with gorgeous cinematic effects."

Austin Colby
Photo: Matthew Murphy
"I'm really proud because we've reconsidered the text's more serious topics," she said in agreement with Colby's assessment. "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" [the couple's flirty duet] became more than a cute song. There's lots of layers beyond the simple. Our movement shows it, too. The choreography is more pedestrian and flows out of the lyric. It's also a little more dangerous and lets us venture into taboo."

Colby continued, "I can truly identify with Rolf. The adult thing is a big transition for me, too. It carries lots of responsibility. There is that constant pull of society. What's right or politically correct? It's pretty controversial sometimes to state what you believe. You have to be strong enough to turn inward and be truthful about your feelings, about what's right."

The rest of the tour family helps keep him honest in that regard.  Cast and crew alike have taken to a nightly backstage ritual.

"While I'm waiting to go on for my final scene, everyone has the same piece of advice," he chuckled. "Do the right thing, Rolf,' they all whisper."

As much as it's a fun joke, Colby acknowledged the true gravity that rests on his shoulders during each performance.

"He becomes involved in lots of high stakes. There's a small scene where he interacts with the captain. Rolf clearly demonstrates he holds Liesl's dad in the highest regard. But the captain immediately dismisses him. He gets disrespected big time." With the air of a present-day warning Colby finished, "The Nazis though. Rolf feels valued and respected in the role the Nazis give him."

As so often happens, 'the right thing' even on stage catches us off guard, comes swooping in when neither we nor the people around us expect it.  It will happen at ASU Gammage next week as the worst tension builds at the show's conclusion.  The shrill whistle-blowing moment arises and everyone holds their breath.

"The ironic thing," Colby concluded about the power-hungry young man, "is he gets surprised and overwhelmed by his own heart when he sees Liesl in the garden at the abbey."

THE SOUND OF MUSIC plays at ASU Gammage from October 18th to October 23rd.

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