- Associated Press - Friday, September 12, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - Tony Award-winning director Jack O’Brien is working on a touring version of “The Sound of Music” starting next year, but he promises he won’t be “trotting out your mother’s version.”

O’Brien, who has helmed such winning Broadway productions as “The Coast of Utopia” and “Hairspray,” said he’ll try to strip the show back to its essence, dropping a lot of the “whiskers on kittens and warm woolen mittens” stuff.

The tour will launch in September 2015 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles and producers said it will travel around North America for multiple seasons, playing multi-week and weeklong engagements. The cast has yet to be announced.

O’Brien said he was inspired to do it during a recent visit to Russia where he saw a post-modern production of “The Sound of Music” in Russian. It left him in tears. “I was immensely affected by it and I’m not that kind of guy,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘Jesus, we should take some varnish off this piece and kind of look at it again.’”

The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical debuted on Broadway in 1959 starring Mary Martin, and the 1965 film starring Julie Andrews won the best picture Academy Award. It has the timeless tunes “My Favorite Things,” ”Do-Re-Mi,” ”Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” ”The Sound of Music” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”

O’Brien saw Martin’s version in college but was largely unmoved, even though the show is based on real events and portrays real people. “It was lovely but it was very kitschy. Even when you look at the costumes, they’re so adorable they make your teeth ache,” he said.

A live version broadcast on NBC late last year starring Carrie Underwood, Stephen Moyer, Audra McDonald, Laura Benanti and Christian Borle showed the continuing love for the show, drawing more than 18 million viewers.

The reason, he said, is clear: “It’s built like a Buick,” said O’Brien.

Though still in the planning process, O’Brien hinted at some of his ideas, including making sure there’s real chemistry between Maria and Captain Georg von Trapp, making some of the scenes that have just a few actors more intimate, and adding a little realism by making the children’s choreography initially look like a non-professional did it.

“There’s a real play here. These roles are actable and the situation is very understandable,” he said. “I thought, ‘Put me in, coach. I’d like to have a whack at that before it’s too late.”

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Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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