MORGANTOWN — Mike McLean was first introduced to “The Sound of Music,” without realizing it.
“When I was a little boy, my mom would sing lullabies to me at night when I was going to sleep,” said the actor. “One of the songs she sang was ‘My Favorite Things.’ I loved it. I had no idea it was from a musical. Now, here I am, 32 years later in the show that song is from.”
McLean portrays widowed naval captain Georg von Trapp — the straight-laced father of seven children being cared for by governess Maria Rainer — in a national tour of the musical, which comes Monday to the WVU Creative Arts Center. The performance begins at 7:30 p.m.
“The greatest thing about playing the captain is that he makes this big change,” McLean said. “He has such a beautiful arc. He’s this rigid taskmaster, the iron-fisted ruler of his children, and then the audience gets to see me soften up with them and feel that evolution.”
The show is set on the eve of the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in 1938, when von Trapp is ordered to take a commission in the German navy. As he opposes the Nazis, he and Maria come up with a plan to flee the country with the children.
Based on the memoir “The Story of the Trapp Family Singers” by Maria Augusta Trapp, “The Sound of Music” features music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse.
“Not everyone realizes that the stage version is the original. Everybody’s seen the movie,” McLean said, referring to the popular 1965 film starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. It received five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.
“There are a couple songs in the show that weren’t in the movie that help give context, which was that this was happening in 1938 Austria. It was a tumultuous time, and that’s not shied away from in the original Broadway show.
“I feel the stage version has more of something for everyone in it. It’s not just singing nuns and cute kids. There are deeper layers to this story, in terms of politics and even the love story. It’s very romantic. There are some steamy moments.”
This is McLean’s second time around with the national tour. Before this run’s 91 dates, he and a few other cast members performed roughly 100 shows during the last tour.
“It’s nice, because it’s second nature,” he said of playing Georg. “But you still need to keep it fresh.”
McLean said one way he does that is by trying his best to elicit real responses from his fellow actors.
“If it’s a funny line or delivery, I want them to actually giggle,” he said. “I want to see that spark in their eyes. You just try to make it as human as possible.”
And sometimes, the nature of the live theater does that for him.
“One time I was in the middle of a romantic scene, when Maria and Captain fall for each other, and we’re running on the stage together and I stepped on her shoe,” he said, referring to actress Jill-Christine Wiley. “The shoe came off, and I had this moment in my head — it felt like a year, but it was really only like two seconds — when I didn’t know what to do.
“I have to sing a line in a second. Should I put the shoe back on? And then [Wiley] just takes both shoes off. In the scene, it’s the end of a night out dancing and Maria would be the type of person to go barefoot. So she just holds her shoes for the rest of the scene. It’s the smartest move she could have made. It worked out perfectly.
“Little things like that remind you that it’s live theater. This isn’t behind the lens of a camera. You aren’t doing a million takes.”
And while that’s exciting as an actor, it’s also why McLean encourages people to come see the show.
“As an audience member, you’re watching it happen in front of you. It’s real life up there, and you can relate that to your life in some way. It makes people think of their own families, their own love for their children or significant other and how can they fight for it and be their true selves in their own lives.”
- “The Sound of Music” is set for 7:30 p.m. Monday at the WVU Creative Arts Center. Tickets start at $49 for the public and $29 for WVU students, and are available at ticketmaster.com, WVU box offices and by calling 304-293-SHOW (7469) or 1-800-745-3000.