Fraulein Maria achieves something truly unique by combining iconic old musical with pure sass

November 17, 2009

A hip-hop Sound of Music


Broad Street Review

November 17, 2009

How do you solve a problem like Doug Elkins— a flibbery jibbet, a will of a wisp, a clown? How do you capture a moonbeam with words?

Fraulein Maria— a Doug Elkins and Friends send-up, celebration and breakdown of the iconic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Sound of Music— was a rare unexpected delight. Choreographer Elkins possesses a talent for mixing together movement from virtually every source.

Yes, you can find snippets of moves from all the great modern choreographers, with bits of Balanchine spice here and there. But what makes Elkins’s choreography so unique and vivid is that its true backbone is break dance and hip-hop.

Every minute in Annenberg’s Zellerbach Theater became part of the show. Before the performance, a cast member in tuxedo and top hat sauntered up and down the aisles, chatting with audience members and even distributing some props to the front row crowd, to be handed up to the performers at the appropriate moments.

The lyrics come back

This same gentleman led the entire audience in the show’s opening rendition of Do-Re-Mi. This version began with a repetition of just the title notes but quickly segued into a full audience sing-along of the entire song. Some of us who lustily joined in were surprised to find that we remembered all the lyrics.

Then the composer Richard Rodgers made a brief appearance, in the form of a spotlighted solitary microphone with Rodgers’s voice-over. And, voila, we were off to Climb Every Mountain, represented onstage by three panels of cloth shaped as peaks. The theater’s front row contributed white cloth for the performers to toss on the peaks and, voila, we had snow.

The best Maria

Elkins filled every minute of each of the famous songs with truly inventive, even eccentric movement. There were three Marias, one of whom was an African-American man— and honestly, he was the best of a terrific trio. The nuns wore black hoodies.

The woman in red with the cigarette holder obviously was the evil baroness; the children in the sailor shirt outfits weren’t hard to figure out. But in the original version the children saluted their new governess; by contrast, Elkins has each child step forward to execute a difficult break move or hip hop combination.

Of course, Elkins’s Maria matched the kids’ routine with parallel-to-ground leaps, spins on the hand and hip hop rhythm moving to Rodgers and Hammerstein, which is quite something to see and hear.

Guys dancing like girls

Before this tightly crafted, non-stop one-hour performance ended, we’d spun through the entire score. It turns out that some part of the brain preserves information about old musicals in your head. From My Favorite Things to The Lonely Goatherd, we recognized every song and laughed out loud at the crazy moves thrown at us.

There was the large-ish male Maria leaping into her/his partner’s arms. As Julie Andrew’s unmistakable voice gave the clarion call, “Somewhere in my youth or childhood I must have done something good, because here we are holding each other,” the stage was filled with men in rippling fabric executing steps that required a partner to balance them– in other words, the guys were dancing like girls and vice versa.

It wasn’t hard to figure out why everyone in the cast wore knee pads: Dancers jumped between other dancers’ legs, slid across the floor or leaped into the air, turned and landed slap on their knees.

Elkins as Mother Abbess

The boss and architect of this wondrous nonsense, Doug Elkins himself, was part of the cast. In the performance I saw, Elkins played the black-hoodied Mother Abbess in his hip-hop version of Climb Every Mountain. He also played the dude sitting on a park bench wearing a white shirt and eyeglasses during Edelweiss.

More than a terrific dance presentation, Fraulein Maria is great theater. Elkins has achieved something truly unique by combining an iconic old musical with today’s street movement and pure sass.

Elkins ends his ode to Rodgers and Hammerstein perfectly, with a fantastic hip-hop solo performed to the lilt of Climb Every Mountain.♦