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Actress relishes playing Maria in ‘The Sound of Music’

Jill-Christine Wiley grew up a fan of “The Sound of Music.”

So, it was a no-brainer that when she was cast as Maria Rainer in the national tour, she jumped at the chance.

Wiley has been performing the role for nearly two years – and more than 300 shows.

“Maria, she’s a busy character,” Wiley says in a recent interview from Colorado Springs. “Maria’s very human, and I think the audience can relate to her in one way or another. There’s something very endearing about her. She leads with her heart and has the best of intentions. She does make mistakes, which makes her human.”

“The Sound of Music” national tour is staged by NETworks Presentations and will make Popejoy Hall its home beginning Thursday, Jan. 24. The production runs through Jan. 27.

Mike McLean as Capt. von Trapp and the von Trapp family.

Mike McLean as Capt. von Trapp and the von Trapp family.

Set in Austria on the eve of the Anschluss in 1938, “The Sound of Music” tells the story of Maria Rainer, who takes a job as governess to a large family while she decides whether to become a nun.

She falls in love with the children, and eventually their widowed father, Capt. Georg von Trapp.

He is ordered to accept a commission in the German navy, but he opposes the Nazis.

Lauren Kidwell as The Mother Abbess and Jill-Christine Wiley as Maria Rainer. (Courtesy of Matthew Murphy)

Lauren Kidwell as The Mother Abbess and Jill-Christine Wiley as Maria Rainer. (Courtesy of Matthew Murphy)

He and Rainer decide on a plan to flee Austria with the children.

The original Broadway production, starring Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel, opened in 1959 and won five Tony Awards.

The first London production opened at the Palace Theatre in 1961.

It was adapted as a 1965 film musical starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, which won five Academy Awards.

The musical features music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, suggested by The Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp.

Keslie Ward as Liesl and Chad P. Campbell as Rolf.

Keslie Ward as Liesl and Chad P. Campbell as Rolf.

The musical is also the last written by Rodgers and Hammerstein; Hammerstein died of stomach cancer nine months after the Broadway premiere in 1959.

Many of the songs – such as “Edelweiss,” “My Favorite Things,” “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” “Do-Re-Mi” and the title song, “The Sound of Music” – have become classic standards.

In 2013, NBC aired “The Sound of Music Live!” which was seen by over 44 million people.

Wiley enjoys performing as Rainer nightly.

“I get to step in her shoes, and she brings out the very best version of myself,” she says. “I’m always growing and evolving within this character.”

Mike McLean as Capt. Georg von Trapp.

Mike McLean as Capt. Georg von Trapp.

Mike McLean is also marking two years on the national tour.

He portrays  von Trapp, who finds himself on a journey of self-discovery.

“It’s a theme of the show,” McLean says. “He’s such a hurt individual, and he can’t be at home. He can’t have music playing, and the kids remind him of his late wife. When Maria comes along, it reawakens his love for the family. There’s a beautiful theme of self-discovery and coming to terms of doing the best with what life gives you.”

McLean says the biggest challenge in taking the musical on the road is keeping it fresh night after night.

In addition to performing for a new audience each night, he has his own trick.

“I’m not going over my script every day,” he says. “If I’m on stage and I feel like I’m forgetting a line, then I really have to think about it. It forces me to work harder and remember the line. We recently had some time off from the show, and coming back to it, the show feels new. Taking a break from it, even for a week, gives us a fresh perspective.”

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