I was 16 or 17 when I learned you don't go to a Rodgers and Hammerstein show for the story; you go to jump-start your soul.
For the previous several weeks, I had been appearing in a little theater production of "South Pacific" and feeling eager to get on to something else. I was backstage in a tiny wooden church turned theater waiting to go on when the lights dimmed, and Muriel Daniels sat down at her electric organ and soared into the overture.
Sitting in the darkness on a dumpy wooden step, I was suddenly transported to a place grander than any I'd ever been before. It didn't matter if I already knew the fate of Bloody Mary and whether Nellie and Emile would get together -- what was important was the majestic mood created by the playwrights. Even in a little playhouse a couple of blocks from the railroad tracks, you were in the theater; it was as good as being fifth row, center, on opening night on Broadway.
When Rodgers and Hammerstein were in charge, the angels sang.
In fact, you can actually hear angels singing at the start of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The Sound of Music," which opens March 22 in Walnut Creek's Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts. Instead of the conventional instrumental overture, the piece opens with a nuns' chorus of angelic singers blowing the roof off the place before morphing into the title tune.
That's why you want to see "The Sound of Music," no matter how many times you've seen it before. The movie just won't rock you to the roots the way live human voices can. When you realize that, you understand why Rodgers and Hammerstein are just that great.
And, if by some chance you haven't seen the show, you're in for a treat because the tale of the von Trapp family is pretty charming in its own right. It revolves around a spirited nun being assigned as governess to the seven von Trapp children, and, of course, falling in love with their father, Austrian naval Capt. von Trapp.
However, it is World War II; the Nazis are coming to power, and the captain is courted by Hitler's people. Von Trapp, a proud, free Austrian, resists the Nazis at every turn, something that puts the lives of him and his family in peril.
It's a compelling story, based on real events, but the main calling card of "The Sound of Music" is that it is packed from start to finish with incredible tunes, including, "My Favorite Things," "Do-Re-Mi," "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," and "Sixteen Going on Seventeen."
Contra Costa Musical Theatre is presenting the 1959 show, which marked Rodgers and Hammerstein's final collaboration, March 22-April 21. Tickets, at $40-$49, may be reserved at 925-943-7469 or www.ccmt.org.
"Othello": Shakespeare's tragedy will be presented in a gender-bending style -- men playing the women's roles and vice versa -- Thursday through March 24 at Cue Productions Live in downtown Concord.
Butterfield 8 Theatre Company artistic director John Butterfield directs the play, which is the story of betrayal, blind rage, jealousy and revenge. The idea of the gender reversal is to give the audience a look at the culture of men as interpreted by women. Examining gender and its various roles is one of the missions of the company, Butterfield said.
"Gender has always been a topic that fascinates me," he said. "Addressing these issues is in our mission statement, so it's no surprise that I chose to go this route with this production."
Tickets, at $12-$25, may be reserved at 800-838-3006 or www.b8company.com.
"FOREVER PLAID": Stuart Ross' popular musical revue runs March 22-30 at the Village Theatre in Danville, presented by Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre. The musical tells the story of a four-part 1950s guy group that died in a car accident but is brought back from the great beyond to perform "The Concert That Never Was." Songs include "Three Coins in the Fountain," "Undecided," "Moments to Remember," "Chain Gang," "Cry" and "Heart and Soul." Tickets are $20-$25; 925-314-3400, www.villagetheatreshows.com.
Contact Pat Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"The Foreigner": Solano Repertory Company's production of Larry Shue's wild satire of what happens when a "foreigner turns up at a small-town inn" comes to the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek from March 7 to 24; $20-$30; 925-943-7469 or www.lesherartscenter.org.
"Guys and Dolls": The musical about Broadway's gamblers and their gals plays March 23 through April 28 at Berkeley's Julia Morgan Theatre. Presented by Berkeley Playhouse; $17-$60; 510-845-8542, www.berkeleyplayhouse.org.