Richard Hamburger

Broadway voices animate Salzburg Marionette Theatre’s ‘Sound of Music’ 

By Lawson Taitte / The Dallas Morning News                                                        Download a PDF of this article

Richard Hamburger may have muttered under his breath at woodenheaded actors in the past. This time around he’s completely satisfied with them.

This weekend, the Dallas Theater Center’s artistic director emeritus returns to the company he used to run with his second try at a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. His 1999 South Pacific was a highlight of his 15-year tenure at the Theater Center. But his Sound of Music is quite a different kind of show.

This premiere launches the world tour of the Salzburg Marionette Theatre’s production of the musical comedy favorite. Dallas Theater Center audiences will get the first look at this 90-minute adaptation, but only for a weekend. The six performances are already virtually sold out.

Mr. Hamburger spent about three months in Austria preparing this Sound of Music, spread out over three trips during the last year. He also spent a long time in New York casting, rehearsing and recording an all-star Broadway cast in the show’s dialogue and music.

“I like to try out new things and new ways of creating theater. This was just too intriguing for me to not do,” Mr. Hamburger says. “There are things you’ve always dreamt of – like defying gravity – that come into play.”

Salzburg, of course, is where the events in the life of Maria von Trapp and her new family actually occurred, as well as the spectacular location where the beloved movie version was filmed. The puppet theater in this birthplace of Mozart is one of the greatest in the world, and the American musical comedy seemed a logical extension of the Mozart operas that already were a part of its repertoire.

The company of 10 puppet masters doesn’t just perform the show. They also create the marionettes and make the sets and costumes, which in this case were designed by distinguished longtime associates of Mr. Hamburger such as set designer Christopher Barreca. Still, it’s their physical skills that give life to the 3-foot characters.

“When you talk about a character, they start to see it in the way the limbs are attached to the body or how the head is attached to the shoulders. In a sense, you’re creating a person with the puppeteer,” the director says. “As a company that lives and works in the community where the show is set, the Austrians bring a particular sensibility to what happens in this show. They say, ‘No, no, an Austrian wouldn’t do that.’ “

The American component of the show is equally distinguished. Christiane Noll, the original Emma in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, voices Maria. Martin Vidnovic, a frequent Rodgers and Hammerstein star, is her captain. The children in the recorded parts of the show are drawn from almost every musical on Broadway, including the Tony Award-nominated Jonathan Groff from Spring Awakening as both Rolf and Friedrich.

As Mr. Hamburger winds up his part of the work, he’s basking in memories of Salzburg and reveling in the experience of working with the famous Marionette Theatre.

“You just don’t find these ensembles that tour the world for years and years anymore. They’re the last of a golden age that flourished in the 19th century,” he says. “I hope it’s a tradition that will be preserved.”

© Richard Hamburger, Theater Director      Site design and maintenance by Amy Lacy.