Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Hills Are Alive With The Sound of Janna!

Back in July I had posted about the outcome of "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?", the CBC TV talent search to cast the role of Maria in the new Andrew Lloyd Webber/David Mirvish production of "The Sound of Music" which has just recently debuted on the Toronto stage. Though the role was officially won by Elicia MacKenzie, the judges were also so impressed with first runner up, Janna Polzin, that a couple weeks later they asked her to be both Elicia's understudy as well as perform as the alternate Maria for the Saturday matinee and Wednesday evening shows. The show opened in October and has met with wide acclaim both from the theatre critics and audiences.

I went to see today's matinee performance starring Janna, and was able to meet with her for a few minutes after the show to present her with this framed print of the caricature I had illustrated of her at the conclusion of the TV series. I'm happy to report that Woodstock Ontario's Janna Polzin is a lovely and gracious young lady in addition to being a phenomenal singer and actress. Janna is a recent graduate of the Musical Theatre program at Sheridan College, where I currently teach in the Animation program. I had actually seen her in Sheridan's production of "The Music Man" three years ago, though her role was only a non-singing bit part that I admittedly cannot recall. I suspect that we also likely passed each other many times in the hallways of Sheridan without my knowing it! Anyway, I certainly know Janna now, and I predict that her success in "The Sound of Music" is going to lead to many more roles in a long and happy career.

By the way, the show itself really is magnificent, with strong performances from all of the leads and a bunch of cute kids as the von Trapp children. The sets are quite inventive, especially the opening number where Maria is first seen lying down in her hilltop alpine meadow gazing up into the sky, where we in the audience see her as if from a bird's eye view above. Then the hilltop slowly angles back into a flat plane, allowing our Maria to stand up and do her famous Julie Andrews twirl as she sings the title song. Janna's voice is clear and pure, with a sweet soprano able to hit all of those high notes perfectly. Broadway's Burke Moses plays Captain von Trapp with a strong voice, and I must say he reminded me a lot of the young Orson Welles, both in vocal quality and appearance! Stratford veteran, Keith Dinicol provides some excellent comic relief as Music impresario, Max Detweiler.

As the production has recently been given an extension through March, I'm very tempted to try and catch another performance to see Elica MacKenzie as Maria. She was also so outstanding during the TV competition and richly deserved winning the role. I suspect she brings her own distinct qualities to Maria, with her bubbly and excitable personality. Incidentally, I'm happy to report that, in sharing the role, these two young ladies (elegantly pictured together here in their evening gowns!) have become very close friends and are very supportive of each other. They're both just so thrilled to have this great opportunity to show Toronto audiences their immense talents and I believe theatre goers will enjoy them both very much in the many months to come. Here's where to go if you're interested in getting tickets to this fine production.

And now, for your added enjoyment, here's one of Janna's performances from "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?", where she sings Andrew Lloyd Webber's hit song from "Evita":

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