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Why Can't Those Nuns Stop Singing? 

Our theater critic answers the questions that must be asked

Q: How do you solve a problem like Maria?

A: Marry her off to a widower with seven children!

Q: Why is The Sound of Music such a beloved show?

A: 1) Although ostensibly Austrian, the heroine embodies a feisty "can-do" American spirit in the tradition of Annie Oakley while creating a loving home for motherless children and a lonely man -- all while strumming the guitar. 2) We all fantasize about singing with a huge family while wearing matching outfits. 3) It's a story of Good and Evil, with Church, Family and National Pride slugging it out against the Evil Nazi Empire. 4) All of the above.

Q: Does Stages St. Louis meet the technical challenges of twelve locations and countless costume changes?

A: Very nicely indeed: Mark Halpin's scenic design effectively contrasts the opulent world of the Von Trapp household and the serene beauty of the abbey. Lou Bird's costumes are gorgeous, especially the glamorous duds on Kari Ely's Elsa Schraeder and the sherbet-colored party clothes for the children.

Q: How can you tell that The Sound of Music was written as a star vehicle for the woman playing Maria?

A: It's not just because she has the most songs; she also has the most opportunity to develop her character. Each decision and change is marked with a conversation or a song. Captain Von Trapp, on the other hand, has only a few lines of a song sung to him by his children to snap instantly from Freezer Father to Loving Dad. Fortunately, the love between Captain Von Trapp and Maria is given suitable to time to grow -- David Schmittou (as the Captain) and Sherri L. Edelen (as Tenille -- no, Maria) let the sexual tension blossom nicely during their Austrian folk dance.

Q: So if the show is a star vehicle, how is Stages St. Louis' star?

A: Edelen is superb. In addition to possessing a beautiful singing voice, she lives the character in believable and delightfully surprising ways. Her facial expressions carry effortlessly to the back row of the theater, and she makes one-word responses or simple gestures resonate with multiple shades of meaning. Most important, she makes discoveries along the way and shares them generously with the audience.

Q: Why do the nuns sing so long?

A: To cover the scene changes behind them.

Q: That explains the noise. But the nun chorale sounds glorious, right?

A: Absolutely. But aside from providing atmosphere, the nuns' singing does nothing to advance the plot, so it gets a little tedious.

Q: Couldn't they cut down on the big scene changes and move the show along more swiftly?

A: Probably, but they'd risk offending the purists who never want to see an iota of a well-known show changed. Some people come as much for spectacle as for story and are willing to sit through filler scenes.

Q: Seven kids -- yikes! Are all they sticky sweet and overplayed like most onstage kids?

A: Thankfully not. They manage to be engaging and fun, as long as you buy that seven children who have supposedly never sung before can suddenly produce beautiful harmonies and perfect pitch!

Q: Does the Von Trapp family escape to Switzerland?

A: We'll never know for sure, but if we clap our hands and think of our favorite things, they've got a good chance.

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More by Deanna Jent

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