The sound of Wendyby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio,
Michael Barone, Minnesota Public Radio
When the Ordway Center in St Paul announced recently that Wendy Knox would be directing the holiday production of "The Sound of Music" it raised a lot of eyebrows - including her own.
St. Paul, Minn. — "I'm still surprised," she says. "What is going on? I thought I was being punked. I mean, they asked me and I was like 'Where's the cameras?' Who would ask me to direct 'The Sound of Music'?"
That's because Knox runs an acclaimed company that is known for it's edgy in-your-face work, the Minneapolis-based Frank Theatre.
Knox says she expects "The Sound of Music" will be a learning experience for everyone.
The rehearsal room at the Ordway is packed with people getting ready for an evening run-through. Maria and a swarm of von Trapp kids gather round the piano for a warm-up.
There are 41 actors in this show if you count all the von Trapps, nuns and Nazis. There will be 22 musicians in the pit. It's very different from Wendy Knox's first production of the Sound of Music. When she was 10, growing up in St Cloud, the family dog had puppies.
"And then we dressed up the black lab puppies and we did the first all-black, all-canine production of 'The Lonely Goatherd.' This is a very different production from that one," she says.
When asked about her canine cast's vocal tone, Knox emits a strangled howl, which blends into her hearty laugh.
Knox says she's working at the Ordway on somewhat short notice because another director dropped out. The show was already cast, and the choreography was done, so she is there to work on the scenes.
Ordway officials have encouraged Knox to put her stamp on the show. But she quickly points out this will not be a Frank Theater-style production.
"I was most interested in doing this thing to learn about how does the machinery of doing a big scale musical in a big house like the Ordway work," she says.
And that she has been doing. Knox laughs as she admits how much she feels adrift with some of the details. But she also raves about the cast and crew of "The Sound of Music" and how much she has been learning from them.
She faces another challenge too: given that just about everyone in the Western Hemisphere has seen the film version of "The Sound of Music", how do you escape the tyranny of the celluloid?
She remembers one thing the show's music director Raymond Berg told the cast at rehearsal.
"He said 'People know the lyrics to these songs better than they know the lyrics to any other American musical, so you better say them right, because if you don't they are going to notice," Knox says.
That being said, Knox is making her cast work the text, be it spoken word or lyrics. She breaks it down to see what it really means. It's something she always does. She points to the example of working with the actors playing the nuns as they prepared "How do you solve a problem like Maria."
"So we tore it apart and made it like dialog, and I think they loved that. And so there's this great chickfight amongst the nuns where they are arguing about Maria. It's hysterical!" she says.
Music Director Raymond Berg says Knox has let them really explore the meaning of the show, and present it as if it's a first production.
"For me the underlying truth for the piece is that music is sort of the reawakening of life for these people and for this family, and joy. It's finding joy again," he says.
Berg says it's been great working with Knox, and Knox says she's having a ball. She quietly admits that in her head she's recast the show as it would have been had she done it as a Frank production.
She's hoping she'll get the chance at some point to do an Ordway show from scratch.
- Morning Edition, 12/12/2007, 7:50 a.m.