Rexburg theater director to retire after this week’s performances of ‘The Sound of Music’
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REXBURG — Something good is coming to Rexburg this week as Rexburg Community Theatre presents Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music.”
Performances will be Friday, June 24, Saturday, June 25 and Monday, June 27 at 7 p.m., at the Madison Performing Arts Center at Madison High School in Rexburg. Tickets are available here.
The musical stars Abby Miller as Maria and Evan Dunn as Captain Von Trapp, and will be director Ann Cluff’s final show after almost two decades with the company.
Miller is a veteran of West Yellowstone’s popular Playmill Theater. She’s a newcomer to RCT and comes with some major pipes.
“She’s got a voice,” Cluff says. “It’s just gorgeous.”
Miller says that playing Maria was in her top five dream roles, but she didn’t expect to get the part.
“I honestly never thought I’d get the opportunity to play her,” Miller says. “I felt so many things when I found out I got the role, but it was mostly just gratitude. It’s been such a huge learning experience stepping into Maria’s shoes, even for a short time in a small town in Idaho.”
Dunn returns to RCT after playing the Beast in RCT’s production of “Beauty and the Beast” in 2019. He’s a Brigham Young University-Idaho music faculty member and a seasoned musical theater and opera performer.
“He’s got this voice that is hard to match,” Cluff says.
RCT standout Thomas Scott will play the role of Von Trapp’s dear friend Max Detweiler, alongside Nicole Riding Stoker as the Baroness Elsa Schraeder. Stoker has an impressive resume, including playing the role of Eponine in the national tour of “Les Miserables.”
“She’s got an amazing voice, and she knows how to do her homework and create her character,” Cluff says of Stoker.
Cluff was at a loss for words when trying to describe Lonna Joy Smoot, who plays the iconic role of Mother Abbess.
“When she opens her mouth and sings …” Cluff starts, unable to finish her sentence.
Smoot is a BYU-Idaho music faculty member with a flawless operatic sound, according to her castmates.
Cluff says auditions for “The Sound of Music” drew the largest pool of talent in the history of the company, with around 260 people auditioning, including 125 children who turned up for a handful of Von Trapp children roles. Those roles ultimately went to Skyler Jensen, Nathan Lombardo, Mikelle Dorman, Michael Mackenzie, Kaybree Hull, Lydia Cannon, and Sayer Krumblis.
David Lawrence plays the part of Rolf, Leisl Von Trapp’s young love interest, caught in between two worlds as the Nazis take over Austria.
The cast’s Austrian and nun ensembles feature a mixture of experienced performers and some newcomers to the stage. Cluff says she gets the same reaction each time she shares that the cast has almost 40 nuns: “Wow! That’s a lot of nuns!”
“When you hear the sounds these nuns make — you have to have a lot of depth,” she says. “To get the warmth of their singing, you have to have a lot of voices.”
It’s the theater’s fourth attempt to put on the classic musical. The first attempt was thwarted because the theater couldn’t secure the rights. The second attempt was abruptly and heartbreakingly canceled mid-casting in March 2020 when COVID-19 took the stage. The theater’s council members considered trying again in 2021, but decided against it because COVID-19 prevention protocols required the cast to be masked and to not touch each other.
Cluff says the council agreed that “If we’re going to do the show, let’s do it right.”
While COVID-19 concerns haven’t passed completely and have caused a few hitches along the way, it appears the production will finally make it to opening night — Cluff’s final opening night as director before she and her husband, Richard, sell their Rexburg home and set off on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I can’t do this forever, and I know that,” Cluff says.
She says she will miss the RCT family she’s built over the last 18 years, and making new friends with every production. She’ll miss witnessing the audience as they have “a moment when they can step out of life and have pure joy.”
As someone who grew up in a theater family, she says, “My whole life has been theater.”
While she’s ready for the next chapter, she acknowledges that stepping away from the theater she co-founded is bittersweet.
“I know I’m going to have my moments when I feel like, ‘Wow, I miss that thing.’”
In her final show, Cluff has put her own artistic stamp on the production by incorporating real audio and video from the story’s late 1930s time period during World War II. She coordinated with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to obtain the footage.
“The timing is perfect in a sad kind of way,” she says, acknowledging social unrest throughout the world, especially the current conflict in Ukraine.
Though the subject matter is heavy, Cluff hopes the audience will “feel what they felt” the first time they saw “The Sound of Music.” Near the end of the performance, the audience will be invited to sing along with the Von Trapp Family’s rendition of “Edelweiss.”
Tickets to see “The Sound of Music” are available on the RCT website, and any remaining tickets will be available at the door.