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Peoria Players to come alive with 'The Sound of Music'

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There are few musicals in existence with more well-known songs than “The Sound of Music.” For decades, this musical based on the true story of the Von Trapp family has been one of America’s favorites.

But it wasn’t until she met the iconic star of the film version of “The Sound of Music” that Mary Ellen Ulrich had any desire to direct it.

“I never really wanted to because I love directing shows with a bunch of kids. This only has a few. But when I got to actually meet and talk to Julie Andrews in New York a few years ago, I decided this was a show I wanted to direct,” Ulrich said.

Peoria Players Theatre gave her the chance this year and “The Sound of Music” opens a nine-show run at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The show continues at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6, 10, 11, 12 and 13 and at 2 p.m. on Dec. 7, 13 and 14.

Tickets are $18 for adults and $12 for patrons 18 and under. They can be purchased online at or by calling 688-4473.

Turning away more children than she’s used to doing was tough, she added. “So I proceeded to double cast some of the kids’ roles. They all are equally talented,” Ulrich said.

“The Sound of Music” is based on the Von Trapp family’s flight from Austria in World War II to escape the Nazi regime. The head of the family of singers, Capt. Georg Von Trapp, is being forced into the Nazi naval forces and he and his new wife, the former novice Maria, plot to escape with the help of the abbey where Maria once lived.

During a recent dress rehearsal, Ulrich beamed while listening to the 23 women she cast as nuns for the musical. “I haven’t heard nuns sing like that since the 1950s,” she said. “Back then they were singing in Latin, so I don’t even know what they were saying. I just know it was beautiful and so are my nuns in this show.”

“The Sound of Music” is produced by several theatre groups, from high school to community theatres, and it seems it is done at least once every few years. But Ulrich said she didn’t worry about it being done too often when she submitted it for consideration for this season.

“I don’t think it gets done in Peoria very often at all. It has been several years. And besides, people love this show. They love the songs. It’s a family feel-good show that never gets old,” she said.

Some of the most memorable songs in Broadway history can be found in “The Sound of Music,” including “My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi,” “Edelweiss,” “Climb Every Mountain,” and, of course, the title song.

“I guarantee you people will leave the theatre singing one or another,” Ulrich said.

She said she is thrilled with the talent of her cast of 54 people, which includes several local community theatre veterans.

Dedra Kaiser, who was Mrs. Smith in the Players’ production of “Meet Me in St. Louis” last year, portrays Maria.  Bruce Colligan, whose lengthy community theatre resume includes lead roles in “Chicago” and “Beauty and the Beast” at Corn Stock Theatre and “Will Rogers’ Follies” and “Ragtime” at Peoria Players, portrays Capt. Von Trapp.

The Von Trapp children are portrayed by Pauline Parkhurst as Liesl, Tyler Skibinski as Friedrich, Grace Blume and Rachel Kocher as Louisa, Gavyne Mitchell and Aidan Khoury as Kurt, Faustina Hoerdeman and Selah Schertz as Brigitta, Molly McNutt and Keliah Schertz as Marta and Margot McNutt as Gretl.

Anita Rowden portrays Mother Abbess, Theresa Olson is Sister Margaretta, Laura Buckley is Sister Sophia and Julie Simmons is Sister Berthe.

Bryan Blanks portrays Max Detweiller, Tonya Davis is Elsa Schraeder, Andrew Harlan is Rolf Gruber, Jarrod Barth is Franz and Roxann Hendrickson is Frau Schmidt. Greg Blume portray Admiral Von Schreiber and Bobby Khoury is Herr Zeller.

Ashley Schlaitweyer is the music director.

“This may be the best cast I’ve ever had for a show. We have true singers, we have music teachers. Certain shows, you know, just naturally bring out the best singers. This is one of them. It has been so much fun,” she said.

This is the ninth consecutive year Ulrich has had a show at Peoria Players, including a couple children’s shows, and she wants to keep the streak going. “Hey, when you get to be my age you have to do it when you can. Besides, I love directing,” she said, while declining to reveal her age.

“I just want our audiences to enjoy the show, let it take them away for a while.”


About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).