Julia Ullrich is playing Maria in the Chemainus Theatre’s upcoming production of The Sound of Music.
The show starts tonight (Friday, Feb. 15) at 8 p.m. and continues until April 6.
This is the first time Ullrich’s performed in this beloved musical, and on top of that, she been given the signature role of Maria Von Trapp.
“It’s exciting,” she said last week, taking a few minutes out from a rehearsal under the direction of Mark DuMez.
“I was very, very pleased when I found out. I really wanted the part, but I hadn’t heard for a while. I didn’t know. You don’t really expect to have such an iconic part. I was also worried that I was a little bit too young, so I was pleased but surprised, too.”
It is probably a good idea to have someone youngish for the role, because Maria has to have a child-like enthusiasm to break through the emotional barriers erected around his children by the icy Capt. Von Trapp.
But what about playing a part like Maria that everybody knows? Everybody remembers Julie Andrews. Everybody can sing every song.
“It is a challenge for anyone,” Ullrich said. “I have done some roles in the past that have been based on movies, though, really popular ones. Usually what I do is watch the film quite a bit ahead of time and get some ideas and remind myself of what that person was like. I also notice what scenes are not in the musical and where that came from.
“But for this one, I decided that I didn’t want to watch it. I had seen it so many times in my childhood that I had a good idea. Normally, I watch the film once and then step away from it because you don’t want to be a copy of what that person did.
“But last week, I think it was, I felt I needed a little more inspiration so I re-watched it. That really helped me.”
Did she find she had taken the role her own way, looking at the movie again?
“I guess so. But I felt I wanted to get some of those iconic things that people remember, and just understand a little bit more about the childlike energy that she brought. That was definitely helpful to revisit it a little bit.”
Ullrich couldn’t wait, though, to say what she’s been enjoying most about getting ready with this cast.
“The kids! One hundred per cent. The first couple of days we didn’t have them. I always get nervous the first few days working things out. But when they came in, it was: OK, I can relax, I don’t have to think about it. And they’re always here. They’re a buffer to play off of.
“I kind of wondered if they would continue to find it enjoyable, because the first time you say something it makes them laugh. But we’d be reviewing things and every time it’s just that same explosion of childlike joy. It’s wonderful,” the actress said.
This is the first time she’s worked with DuMez as a director.
“He’s super-detailed, and very organized with the kids, which was absolutely necessary. He has an emotional idea for every character. If somebody comes to him and says, I’m not sure about this moment, he’s really good about giving suggestions on a way in to understand what’s going on. It’s been a really good experience. It makes a difference that he’s an experienced actor. He knows how to talk to actors, that’s important.”
There are differences between the stage and movie versions of The Sound of Music.
“There are couple of places but we have moved things around from what’s scripted to make it a little more familiar. Obviously, everyone knows the movie but they may not know the play version. In the [stage] script, they’ve got songs in different orders, different situations, and we’ve moved some around.”
A really noticeable difference is where the song ‘My Favourite Things’ is in the two versions.
“It’s in her bedroom in the movie, that’s an iconic moment for sure, we’ve made changes. I was really surprised when I read it in the script. There, ‘Favourite Things’ comes in the abbey with the Reverend Mother. I was so surprised. Hopefully audiences will be happy with what we’ve done.”
Theatregoers will enjoy the musicianship they’ll see in this production, she said.
“That’s something that’s really cool and unique about our show. They may not have seen this before. I was saying to my cast members last night what was so amazing is how all these people who are in the band are actors before they are musicians. They play this music so well, and then stepping right into a scene. Audiences will really enjoy it.”
After all, it’s The Sound of Music!