"The Sound of Music" is one of the most famous musicals, largely because of the 1965 feature film starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. This weekend the classic musical comes to the Chicago Lyric Opera, starring Jenn Gambatese and Billy Zane. Saturday evening, April 19, 22-year-old Zach Sorrow and 24-year-old Betsy Farrar shared insight into their roles as young lovers Rolf and Leisl and what it's like working with the cast.
"The Sound of Music" tells the story of Maria, a former nun who become a governess for the seven children of a wealthy, strict widower in Nazi-occupied Austria. The oldest daughter, Leisl has a unique love story with a boy named Rofl partly because they are only 16 and 17-years-old, but also because of the circumstances surrounding their lives in Nazi-occupied Austria. Both are in the transition between child and adult, and the added political pressures make this already-confusing stage even more challenging, especially for Rolf, as Sorrow puts it,
We don't see that Rolf is getting pulled into the adult world of power kicks during the Nazi invasion and I think what makes their relationship interesing is how he has to go back and forth between how much he loves and cares about her and her family, but at the same time fears for their safety because of what's happening in the grander scheme of things.
Farrar agreed and elaborated on the uniqueness of their love story saying,
They don't just fall in love and everything is happily ever after. They have feelings for each other and then circumstances beyond their control pull them apart.... But there's all kinds of love. Love of family, love of country, romantic love.. so it's not typical in the way that every bow gets tied and everybody's happy. It's more complex which is more like real life.
The struggle for Sorrow in this production was to portray someone who becomes a Nazi without demonizing him. As he explains it,
It's trying to figure out why a person would say 'Yes' to putting on that uniform. I think that's where the challenge is- understanding that there were a lot of people that had to do things they didn't want to do and that not every Nazi can be called equal because there were some who were there because they were too afraid to say 'No' and they didn't have any other options.
While some say that working with children can be another challenge, both Sorrow and Farrar agree that acting alongside child actors was is one of the great things about this production. Farrar says,
I've enjoyed working with the kids because it reminds me what it's like to be a kid- just laugh and have fun. They're doing theater to have fun and they're not thinking about their career. They're just being kids which is awesome.
Farrar touched on the sense of camaraderie with the cast saying,
With a cast this large there's so many numbers to stage, so many scene to block, so the time really flies but everybody bonds so quickly because everybody's in it together.I think that's what's really neat about theater in general- everybody comes together as a team.
Few stage actors have the unique pleasure that this cast has of working with an esteemed film actor such as Billy Zane. Sorrow commented on Zane's transition to theater saying,
I've talked to quite a few film actors who love doing film and enjoy doing it the most, but every now and then they crave the opportunity to do something live just because the atmosphere is so different.
It can always be a little intimidating going into a rehearsal stage with somebody who's very recognizable and even in the first day of rehearsal it didn't feel like that... It took 5 seconds of conversation with [Billy Zane] to realize he's another awesome person that I get to rehearse with. He's great!
Like Sorrow, Farrar had only good things to say about working with Zane as she added,
He's just so wonderful to work with. He's such a great actor and I've learned a lot about being an actor from him. He's always examining the objective behind his character and all of our characters. It's really helped me to look more closely at my character and be a better actor and he's very funny too. He always has something really funny to say or a joke so it's been a pleasure to work with him.
Of course, one can't talk about "The Sound of Music" without mentioning the actress playing Maria. Sorrow commented saying,
Jenn Gambatese is just fantastic. Even after three weeks of rehearsal, every opportunity I have to listen in when she's singing I take advantage of because it's just wonderful.
The whole production promises to astound audiences from the music to the actors to the large scale sets. Both Sorrow and Farrar praised the impressive sets. Sorrow stated,
We have an absolutely extraordinary set and costume design team in this production. Even as somebody who's in this show I'm still blown away by the designs that they've brought into this theater.... I think everybody's going to be blown away by this set. Having a stage this big to tell this story in is a blessing. I can't imagine a live production has been done quite like this before.
Farrar and Sorrow shared their joy and gratitude at being a part of a large-scale production of such an epic musical. For Farrar in particular, this has been a dream come true as "The Sound of Music" was the film that inspired her to start acting.
This has been a full circle dream come true for me- to get to be in this show that sparked my interest in this as a career. It's a dream role that I've wanted to do forever.
Farrar elaborated on the beauty of this production saying,
The thing i love about his musical is it stresses the importance of family.... Even though the Von Trapp family goes through all these obstacles, at the end of the day they have their family and they come together as a unit. So I hope that peole leave and think about their families and feel the love for the people they have in their lives.