Synthia Yusuf as Maria in the Arts Club Theatre Company production of The Sound of Music. Photo by David Cooper.
Synthia Yusuf as Maria in the Arts Club Theatre Company production of The Sound of Music. Photo by David Cooper.

Despite being one of the most iconic musicals of all time, it is surprising to learn that after 55 seasons, Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre Company has never staged Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music.

That is all about to change as our city’s largest professional theatre company will present the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic as its 630th production this holiday season.

It is also a first for Vancouver-based actors Damon Calderwood and Cecilly Day as the duo make their Arts Club debuts in the Tony Award-winning musical about the von Trapp family and their young Governess.

In this Q&A with the two actors, we find out more about their roles, landing their first Arts Club role, and why audiences should consider The Sound of Music as part of their holiday plans this year.

This interview has been edited.

Tell us about the characters you play in The Sound of Music.

Calderwood: My character, Franz, is an amalgamation of two real-life characters in Maria’s book: Hans and Franz. No, not the Saturday Night Live duo who entertained us with their enthusiastic muscle posing, but Hans the Butler, and Franz, Captain Von Trapp’s faithful orderly from his naval days who also resided on his estate and ran the farming portion of it. In the musical, Franz is a faithful butler and former orderly to Captain Von Trap. Still, politically, he is drawn to the Nazi Party’s allure and power and immediately joins them after the Anschluss in 1938. Once that happens, he becomes a bit of a liability to the family, and his loyalty is drawn into question. It is a powerful and interesting journey for him. Also of note, his disgust and disdain at having to serve the very sloppy Max Detweiler is a poorly kept secret throughout the show.

Day: I am portraying Sister Margaretta and the Baroness Elberfeld. Sister Margaretta is one of the nuns of Nonnberg Abbey and recognizable as the one who supports Maria the most. She is a kind woman who loves Maria’s free spirit and champions for her to transition from a postulant to a novice where some of the others believe she cannot be groomed for the religious life. My mother also played Sister Margaretta when she was in school, so that I’m now playing the role years later is really special. Baron and Baroness Elberfeld are neighbours of Captain Von Trap and one of the oldest Austrian families in the valley. They are firmly Austrian and do not take kindly to the belief that Austria should bend to Germany.

You have been performing in Vancouver for several years, has it always been a goal to book an Arts Club show?

Damon Calderwood plays Franz in the Arts Club Theatre Company production of The Sound of Music.
Damon Calderwood marks his Arts Club debut as Franz in The Sound of Music.

Calderwood: Yes, for sure.  I never gave up trying, though it would have been easier to do that at some point. I had my first audition for the Arts Club in 1996, and 23 years and 25 auditions later, Ashley Corcoran, Ken Cormier, and Shelley Stewart Hunt gave me this amazing opportunity to work for the best theatre company in Western Canada.

Day: I’ve been back in Vancouver since 2015. I went to school at the University of Victoria, which has a much smaller theatre community with very different ideas of what professional theatre is. But it was always very clear that to be in an Arts Club show was how you knew you’d made it. I heard many stories of people who had auditioned and been cut off mid-song because they had gone over their time limit. So when I arrived In Vancouver, I set “be cast in an Arts Club show” as my goal. The Arts Club generals were my first audition in Vancouver before Hairspray opened before anyone even knew who I was. It wasn’t a great audition, but I’d like to think I’ve greatly improved at auditioning over four years. On the one hand, I can’t believe it’s taken me four years to finally be cast in an Arts Club show, but it is also humbling because I know there are so many other actors that have been trying for much longer than myself.

There are a lot of new faces and a welcome increase in diversity in this production, why do you think that is?

Calderwood: Diversity is like variety, which, as we all know, is the spice of life. I believe diversity on stage brings a breath of fresh air to the theatre, helps us all learn more from each other, and promotes understanding between people of all different walks of life and backgrounds. It also lets the audience use their imagination too, so they aren’t always being forced to watch a uniform picture that some theatre companies have presented them in the past. Talent has no ethnic or cultural boundaries, so why should theatre?

Day: The Arts Club is a leader in professional theatre in Vancouver. They have always produced intelligent and topical theatre. They are certainly aware of what’s happening in society and the discussions happening amongst artists in the community. They see what’s happening in the world, and they hear the demands of the community and their audiences. That they are willing to listen speaks much to why they are a leader of the arts in Vancouver.

In rehearsal, what is your favourite scene to watch?

Calderwood: I am a sucker for watching Maria relate to and win over the kids, which happened in real life. As they grow to love her, and she grows to love them, so do we. And those kids are so darned talented and adorable. It is a joy to watch them all sing, dance, and act their little hearts out. They are going to be a big part of why people will laugh, cry, and never forget this amazing show.

Cecilly Day makes her Arts Club debut as Sister Margaretta and the Baroness Elberfeld.
Cecilly Day makes her Arts Club debut as Sister Margaretta and the Baroness Elberfeld.

Day: Definitely “How Can Love Survive”, the musical number between the Captain, Baroness Schraeder, and Uncle Max. I think audiences will probably be surprised because it was cut from the movie. It is very funny as it shows off more of the personalities of Uncle Max and the Baroness. They also depict the neutral people in times of conflict, the people who don’t pick sides but instead choose to have alliances in both, choosing self-preservation in dangerous times. The number is expertly choreographed and watching the three of them is a riot. I think audiences are going to love it.

Why should audiences come to see this production of The Sound of Music?

Calderwood: Having read Maria’s story of their journey that the musical was based on, I was shocked to see how closely the musical follows her book. In other words, their romance was truly unique, and their story is worth telling. One of my favourite lines in the show is from Maria: “when you love someone, you don’t think of yourself first anymore, you think first of them.” This story has many universal truths that will resonate with all people of all ages because universal truths don’t change over time.

Day: It’s a family classic for sure, and many of us, myself included, grew up watching these classic musicals on VHS where you had to switch the tapes over for act two. However, most productions these days are done at the high school level. How often do large professional companies like the Arts Club do these classic musicals? This is a great opportunity to see a wonderful classic musical done fabulously.

The Sound of Music plays the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage (2750 Granville St, Vancouver) November 7 to January 5. Visit artsclub.com for tickets and information.