What girl didn't want to be a nun after first seeing The Sound of Music movie? After all, joining a convent led Julie Andrews (as Maria) to a huge mansion and to the love of her life.
With its romantic story line, adorable kiddos, and catchy tunes, The Sound of Music has long been one of the world's most beloved stories. The Broadway musical based on the life of the real Maria Von Trapp will have Houstonians singing its praises from February 16 through 21 at the Hobby Center.
Enter stage left: college sophomore Kerstin Anderson. As fate would have it, she grew up near Stowe, Vermont — home of the real Von Trapps after they settled in America in the 1940s. The actress, who rather unexpectedly won the coveted role of Maria Rainer in the latest touring revival of the musical, was very familiar with the story and music when she auditioned. She remembers watching the movie adaptation on a two-tape set with her family when she was young, which made an indelible impression. "[The Sound of Music] set my appreciation for music and my passion for musicals," recalls Anderson.
As a theater student at Pace University in New York, she was encouraged to audition for roles as part of her education. "I got an appointment for The Sound of Music. I went in on a whim thinking I grew up watching this movie and singing these songs, so why not?" says Anderson.
'Speechless and flabbergasted'
After several call backs, Anderson got a phone call asking if she'd like to tour the country in the leading role. "I was completely speechless and flabbergasted," she admits. Finishing her degree would have to wait; she had less than two months of rehearsal before the tour kicked off in September of 2015 in Los Angeles.
Anderson's life changed so quickly that she didn't really have time for it all to sink in. The day the reality of the whole experience hit her was about three weeks into the tour when her dad was able to come to a show. "I was walking back to my car and I thought, 'My father got to see the show. Oh my goodness, I'm doing a show in LA. I'm playing Maria. Oh my god, what is happening?' It was a powerful moment for me," says Anderson.
Taking on an iconic role can be a daunting task. Anderson says she never tries to play Maria as anyone before her — she just tries to make her portrayal authentic. "What I will thank Jack O'Brien, our director, for until the day I die is he never expected me to be Julie Andrews or Mary Martin or Marie Osmond. He asked me to bring myself into the role, and I'm so grateful for that because that's really all I can do.”
O'Brien calls Maria a "star-making" part and set out to discover an unknown with "star-making magic."
"[Anderson] sang and the tears welled up in my eyes," says O'Brien. "If ever there were an enchanting young woman standing on the brink of discovery, this was it!"
Now, six months in, Anderson says being a touring actress has taught her a lot about herself and life in general. In speaking with her, I couldn't help but draw parallels between her and the character she's bringing to life each night. Much like Maria adjusted to living the simple life of a nun, Anderson has had to simplify. "[When on tour], everything you have with you has to fit in a suitcase ... that's been an adjustment," says Anderson. "I'm learning how to live simply, and that's been a wonderful exercise for me.”
She must be doing something right based on the rave reviews of her immaculate vocals and her down-to-earth portrayal of Maria. "What we respond to with the role of Maria — whether it's Julie Andrews playing the role or someone else — is the honesty and truth," explains Anderson. "If I am as honest as they are, even if Maria is different, people will have the same response."
It seems the part of Maria is a perfect fit for this young lady — coming into her own much like the character she plays. Anderson has a great understanding of the magic that has continually drawn people to this captivating story for more than a half century. "The messages and themes of the story are universal. Maria is looking for her place in the world and the captain is recovering from grief, and those are universal emotions," says Anderson. "I think everyone who watches it relates to it in some way, and that's why it remains the iconic piece that it is."