For me, the greatest message is the spiritual message conveyed in ‘The Sound of Music,’” says Northwest Arkansas actor Jennifer Armstrong Shaver. “The message that, sometimes God leads us in ways we don’t understand as part of His plan for our lives.
“As the Mother Abbess, I have the privilege to remind the family — and the audience — that they must remember to ‘lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help’ as a means to reassure all that God will be with them in each and every circumstance.”
Shaver is trusting to her blessings — or good luck — to appear onstage this weekend and next in the beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein musical at Springfield (Mo.) Little Theatre. The cast has been reduced to only speaking roles; the audience must wear masks and will be socially distanced in the auditorium; and actors are singing through clear shields to keep them as safe as possible.
Director Chuck Rogers says the clear shields were inspired by photos of a professional production of “Peter Pan” in Memphis, Tenn.
“The cast was masked from Day 1 of rehearsals,” he says. “But with the clear shields, we can finally see each others’ faces.”
“The biggest adjustment for me has been getting used to more of my own sound bouncing back at me. It has been necessary to adjust how I process and react to that. It can make you be more critical of what you are hearing in the moment,” says Shaver, who is familiar to Northwest Arkansas audiences for her role as Miss Hannigan in the 2019 Arkansas Public Theatre production of “Annie” and as Aunt March in the Pilot Arts version of “Little Women.” But it’s all been worth it to the veteran performer, who was invited to be in the show on the Springfield stage that was long her home.
“They, too, have been shut down for quite a while due to the pandemic but had just started testing the waters with a few small productions,” Shaver says. “This was to be the first large-scale mainstage production since the pandemic hit. The invitation was flattering and well worth the drive to get back in the theater saddle!”
The theater company was preparing to open “Matilda: The Musical” when the pandemic rolled in to southern Missouri, but Rogers says the staff immediately shifted gears and moved to do smaller shows — “Deep in the Heart of Tuna” in July, followed by “The Last Five Years” and “Forbidden Broadway.” He hoped by the time “Sound of Music” hit the stage, mask mandates would be over. They weren’t.
So Rogers punted. Instead of a live orchestra, the show is tracked with what he calls “a full, lush orchestration.” Instead of a live chorus, Rogers brought in everyone who auditioned and recorded all the ensemble music.
“It sounds like they’re really there,” he says. “You just don’t see them.”
To Shaver, “The Sound of Music” seems like the right show at the right time.
“To me, there is such a redeeming message that in spite of political shifts, questionable leadership, and sometimes frightening circumstances, it is possible to rely on the power of hope, perseverance, faith, and courage to pull through and emerge triumphant.”
‘The Sound of Music’
WHEN — 7:30 p.m. today; 2 & 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; again Feb. 11-14 WHERE — Springfield Little Theatre at the Landers Theatre in Springfield, Mo. COST — $24-$34 INFO — 417-869-1334 or springfieldlittletheatre.org FYI — Tickets for streaming performances are also available.