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The Hills are Still Alive

A pre-World War II tale full of love, hope, passion, worry, and fear of an uncertain future, "The Sound of Music" musical embraces the source material through modern eyes.

Gina Conroy
March 28, 2018

When most people think of The Sound of Music, they envision the iconic opening scene of the 1965 film starring Julie Andrews as Maria Rainer, twirling around the meadow with the mountains of Austria rising behind her. Majestic mountains, established and assured of their purpose, dwarf the young girl on the brink of womanhood not yet sure of her place in the world.

The film, inspired by Maria von Trapp’s memoir (The Story of the Trapp Family Singers), has earned a place as one of the most beloved films and musicals of all time, but many aren’t aware that it debuted onstage as a musical in 1959. And this month, Tulsa gets to experience The Sound of Music in a theatrical show featuring the cherished music and lyrics of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein.

“Even though it’s set in 1938 as the Nazis were taking control of Austria, it’s a story very relevant to today’s audience,” says Melissa McKamie, who plays Baroness Elsa Schrader, Maria’s rival for the heart and hand of the stuffy Naval widower Captain Georg von Trapp, father to seven precocious and mischievous children. “It’s a story about a young girl unsure of the path she should take in her life. She’s searching for meaning outside herself.”

In contrast to Maria, McKamie’s character is more mature and finds her strength from within. “She’s in control of her emotions and her life in a way that Maria is not,” says McKamie.

Though they are two completely different characters, both are searching for a dream and security during turbulent and unsure times.

“When Baroness Schrader realizes her fiancé will not appease the Nazi party, she decides she is not willing to risk the wealth and status she has attained and calls off the engagement,” says McKamie. “My hope is that down the line she changes her views, but at that moment, she is in survival mode and love is not worth the risk.”

Other characters like the Captain and Rolf Gruber, the young Nazi recruit, have to choose whether they will cooperate or defy the new regime.

“They’re human beings like you and me finding their own way in life,” says McKamie. “If you’re on the front lines like they were, you have to ask yourself, what are you willing to risk to stand up for what you believe is right?”

McKamie hopes that audiences see the relevance in their own lives through these very real characters.

Melissa McKamie as Baroness Elsa Schrader, (Photo: Matthew Murphy)
Melissa McKamie as Baroness Elsa Schrader, (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Amid the backdrop of the Nazi takeover of Austria, the real heartbeat of the show is summed up in Mother Abbess’ vocal counsel to Maria to “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”

“Mother Abbess is telling Maria to follow her dreams no matter how hard the climb, even if it means giving up what she first thought was her dream,” says McKamie.

And McKamie knows a thing or two about following her dreams. Growing up in Texas and Oklahoma, she attended Oklahoma City University where she studied musical theatre under the guidance of Dr. Florence Birdwell, a legend in the industry. After graduating and saving up enough money, McKamie moved to New York City in 2004, but she wasn’t prepared for the culture shock. In fact, it was such an adjustment that McKamie didn’t start auditioning until four years ago.

But in a way, McKamie was more like Maria than the Baroness back then: a young woman discovering herself and coming out to family and friends after she moved to New York with the woman who would later become her wife. “The rejection that came from that was all I could handle at the time,” says McKamie. “I only auditioned for things that were low risk, but I never stopped singing.”

McKamie and her wife (now a pastor of a church in New Jersey), were married in 2011. In 2012, after Hurricane Sandy, while driving on a dark highway with no lights due to the power being out, a deer jumped a concrete wall and crashed into them.

“I developed what I thought was laryngitis,” says McKamie. “But after two weeks I began to worry, so I saw an ENT and was diagnosed with vocal fold paresis [partial paralysis] caused by trauma or a virus, and there was no guarantee of healing.”

Doctors told McKamie to wait. “During those seven months of not speaking, I did a lot of soul searching,” says McKamie. “I hadn’t yet pursued my calling in the way I knew it had to be pursued, and I vowed to jump in and give it everything I had as soon as my voice came back.”

Was it irony or fate that McKamie’s first professional gig was playing Maria in The Sound of Music in a regional production? “It was very healing for me to play Maria,” says McKamie.

And playing Baroness Elsa Schrader has brought her full circle.

Audiences will experience all the things they love about The Sound of Music. Most of the favorite songs in the original stage production are in the show, although some songs which appeared in the film are in different orders and scenes.

McKamie encourages anyone who has seen The Sound of Music to come see it again and experience it through fresh eyes.

“The one word that keeps coming up is stunning,” says McKamie.

The Sound of Music
Tulsa Performing Arts Center
101 E. 3rd St. | Tulsa
April 3-5: 7:30 p.m.
April 6: 8 p.m.
April 7: 2 p.m., 8 p.m.
April 8: 2 p.m., 7 p.m.