By Allison Wrabel
The (Charlottesville) Daily Progress
The experience starts as soon as the audience gets on the ski lift.
Singing nuns also are riding the lift, the von Trapp children are playing croquet and badminton — and marching to and fro — and Austrian music is playing over the speakers.
The hills truly are alive this month at Wintergreen Resort, as a site-specific production of “The Sound of Music” by Brian Clowdus Experiences runs through the end of the month.
“The caliber of Brian’s experience provides an opportunity for Wintergreen and Nelson County to become a cultural destination this fall,” Rod Kessler, the general manager of Wintergreen Resort, said in a statement. “Outdoor theater aligns with Wintergreen’s core values — enjoying the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains while providing interesting and unusual programming year-round.”
Clowdus said he has been wanting to produce a site-specific “Sound of Music” “for ages,” but he struggled to find the perfect venue.
“When I visited Wintergreen Resort for the first time, my breath was taken away by the views — truly some of the most incredible vistas I have ever seen — and I immediately envisioned Maria running up singing, ‘The hills are alive with the sound of music,’” he said in a statement.
Assistant Director Cullen Gray said it can be hard to rehearse with feeling for an outdoor show while inside.
“But Brian is really brilliant at creating the heart of the show inside, so that way, when we move outside, we don’t lose the heart, but we specify the blocking, and we specify all the logistics and the set pieces moving in and out,” Gray said.
Gray said he has worked on 10 productions with Clowdus.
“The more you do outside of theater, I think, the more you figure out the bugs with how to make mic’s work with the wind, and, yeah — actual, literal bugs,” Gray said. “The works.”
Choreographer Jacob Lavoie said there are many added elements of complexity when working with children — such as making sure their needs are being met and they’re supervised at all times — and more so with two sets of children for various showings.
“But these kids have been great; they’re little professionals,” he said.
Company Manager Donna Warfield said it wasn’t the original plan to have two sets of von Trapp children.
“We knew that we would definitely have to do understudies, though, because the kids, in a long run, you never know if they’re gonna get sick,” she said. “And then we auditioned so many kids, over 60, and Brian found so many that he liked that he decided to do two casts. He probably easily could have done three or four with the amount of kids that auditioned.”
Sisters Reagan and Reese Topper, who both attend Broadus Wood Elementary, played Marta von Trapp and Brigitta von Trapp at Saturday’s matinee.
“My favorite part was getting to know the people that I don’t know,” Reagan said of her time as Marta. “... And looking at the view.”
Both have performed in other local productions before, but never outside, in the elements.
“It’s been a new experience, but it’s been fun,” Reese said.
The show runs through Sept. 29 with 7 p.m. evening performances Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. matinee performances Saturdays and Sundays. More information is available at wintergreenresort.com.