Mike McLean remembers his mother singing to him as a child at bedtime. One of his favourite songs was from The Sound of Music. He never imagined years later he would find himself starring as Captain Georg von Trapp in a stage production of that very musical.
“My favorite lullaby growing up was My Favorite Things,” says McLean by phone. “So now I get to hear that song every night, and be reminded of my mother.”
And while McLean was surprised to eventually land a show with such a personal connection, it isn’t surprising he would eventually find himself in the performing arts.
“Music was always part of my life in a big way, as both my parents were musicians,” he says. “In fact, my parents met because my mom auditioned for my dad’s band.”
McLean’s mom would also feature prominently in landing the role as Captain von Trapp, with a trip to celebrate her birthday in the Hawaiian Islands falling in the middle of auditions.
“As much as I really wanted to stick around and audition for the part, I bought a ticket and went to celebrate with my family in Kauai,” he says.
Receiving a callback while in Kauai, McLean ended up having to submit a taped audition from the family’s beach house getaway.
“I didn’t think that that would be enough for them, but the director wanted to see me when I got back into town and so I was able to schedule a special audition with him, and eventually booked the part,” he says.
A relative newcomer to the touring production, McLean joined as the tour began in Washington State before coming up to Vancouver later this month. He is relishing playing a role that is sometimes overlooked.
“When most people, me included, think of The Sound of Music, they think of Maria, the children and the singing nuns. They don’t necessarily think about Captain von Trapp.” he says. “Now that I’ve really gotten into it, it might be my dream role. I mean, I can’t think of any other part that I’d rather be playing right now.”
Helping him to realize the role, McLean draws inspiration from his own family’s love for music in portraying a man who banished music from his life as it was a painful reminder of his dead wife.
“There’s this beautiful moment in the show where he hears his children singing for the first time, and it changes something in him. It reawakens a love for them, for his children,” says McLean.
Along with its iconic characters, many audiences will be most familiar with Academy Award winning 1965 film version starring Julie Andrews. Pre-dating the film by six years, the stage version has a number of differences.
“I think a lot of people are going to see it as something new because they are familiar with the movie, and we have gotten back to the original script and the original music,” McLean explains. “So there’s some songs that were cut out of the movie that are back in our production.”
Under the spectre of the film, McLean immediately dismisses the idea anyone in the cast is trying to live up to anyone else’s performance, including his own against Christopher Plummer.
“We just think the music is incredible, it’s some of the best music that’s ever been written,” he says. “And then, there is this really wonderful story and these beautiful characters who go through these great changes. We’re just trying to do justice to what’s on the page musically, and in the libretto itself.”
For those who are familiar with the stage version though, there is something new for them as well.
“The transitions are smoother. There’s no full-on blackout while we change the scenes, and then lights back up. It all sort of flows from one scene to the next. Which I think is really nice, because it helps you stay invested in the story,” he says.
“My favorite lullaby growing up was My Favorite Things, so now I get to hear that song every night, and be reminded of my mother.” – Mike McLean
In addition to the new staging, the touring production has also spent time digging a little deeper into the story.
“We’ve highlighted the themes of these characters really finding themselves, and discovering who they are, and their love for one another, and the children,” he says.
A big part of that story revolves around the Anschluss, or Nazi annexation of Austria. It is a storyline that has taken on more significance given recent political events in the United States.
“It’s not like we’ve added anything to the story, it’s just there and it happens to be relevant right now,” says McLean. “We certainly don’t want to gloss over it, we just want to tell the story because it’s such a good story. So we want to do it justice, and there is a political side to it that often people don’t really remember.”
Another big part of The Sound of Music is the large number of children in the cast. While initially a little worried going in, McLean has found working with the children a pleasure.
“They’re been very professional, and they’re very talented,” he says. “And they’re just cute as heck, especially the little one, Gretel. Everything she does is just so cute.”
As for a favourite song from The Sound of Music now, while McLean remains partial to My Favourite Things, it is perhaps not surprising to hear it is the Captain’s big solo number that resonates now.
“Favorite Things is a favorite because it’s tied to my mother and my family, but performing Edelweiss every night is a pleasure,” he says. “It’s really fun to take the stage and sing this wonderful song.”
The Sound of Music plays the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver from September 12-17. Visit http://broadwayacrosscanada.ca for tickets and information.