Niagara Gazette — When Captain Von Trapp hugged little Gretl on stage during opening night of “The Sound of Music” at Artpark on Thursday, there were more than a few people in the audience who got misty-eyed.
It was the scene after Maria scolds the captain and tells him he doesn’t even know his own children. The widowed captain, played by David Autovino, seems taken back by the words and reaches for his youngest of seven, Gretl, played by Faith Walh, 9, of Orchard Park.
”He kneels down and grabs her real tight,” said Faith’s mom, Katie Walh. “Me, my husband, and her whole entourage, got teary eyed.”
Faith is one of the many children and young actors who will be on stage in Lewiston over the next two weeks. “The Sound of Music,” is running on the mainstage at Artpark through July 19. Over at Hennepin Park on Center Street, during “Spirits of 1813,” there will be a handful of young actors helping the Marble Orchard Players bring history to life.
For some, the acting will come naturally. Faith, raised by two parents who own a dance and acting studio in Orchard Park, found the experience even better than a recent role she had in “Annie.” She was delighted when the audience laughed at several of her lines, including when she asks of a Nazi officer, “why was he so cross?”
But others are getting their first taste of speaking lines on stage. While Madeline Catalano has been in “Spirits of 1813,” for the past three years, her younger sister, Allison, 7, is getting her first speaking role in this year’s rendition.
”I feel really excited and scared,” said Allison, who plays a little sister to her big sister in the production. In the play, where characters recount their experiences in war torn Lewiston, the Catalanos play sisters whose lives are turned upside down when Lewiston in burned to the ground in 1813.
And though both “Sound of Music,” and “Spirits of 1813” document horrific wars, the kids interviewed seem unphased by the darkness of the dramatic content in the productions.
Alex Gentile, 16, plays a boy who is scalped by the native Americans in “Spirits of 1812.” He describes the role as “really cool,” but sad, as it tells of a boy who sees his father surrounded by native Americans and grabs a gun and tries to shoot the aggressors. “He falls over from the shot. The Indians take advantage and scalp him from his eyebrows to his head.”
”I don’t like the story but admire the character,” said Gentile. “He was able to stand up at such a young age. If it were me I’d lock myself in the basement.”
And despite the tongue in cheek Hollywood adage that cautions against working with children and animals, the professionals working with the children are surprised by their professionalism.
”It’s kind of fun to be on the other side of the process,” said Emilie Renier, who stars in “The Sound of Music,” as Maria and who at 23 is not to far from being a child actor herself. “There’s a whole childlike belief when you are younger,” she said. “When you get older, you start learning the ways of the world and you have to start acting as opposed to believing in something. It’s really fun to watch.”
Her director, Randall Kramer, also executive director of MusicalFare Theater in Amherst, said he has never worked with so many young people as he has on the set of the “Sound of Music.”
”I’ve found it to add a really nice dimension to the experience for me,” he said. “I think that translates into the show itself as well, in this really powerful story about trying to hold on to your life in the face of tyranny and fascism.”
In “Spirits of 1813,” which is a free outdoor production being held July 19 and 20 and 2 p.m. July 21 (at which attendees are encouraged to bring lawn chairs) the young actors enhance the cast of The Marble Orchard Players of the Lewiston Arts Council, which is sponsoring the event.
”I am most excited about the teens and the children in the cast,” said Eva Nicklas of the Arts Council. “They’ve made such a commitment between all the rehearsals and learning their lines.” The other local young actors in the production are Brodie McPherson, a 2013 Lewiston Porter grad who is planning to study theater and Geri Posa, also a theater student.
Who knows where it all will lead for the young actors? Some are already on their way.
Faith Walh is starring in “Madeline’s Christmas” at the Theater of Youth during the holidays, and both Mill.
Gentile, a Lewiston-Porter High School junior, is directing an upcoming production for the Royal Princess Festival at the Lewiston Library. Says Nicklas: “I expect to see him on the Broadway stage.”IF YOU GO n WHAT: Sound of Music n WHERE: Artpark, Lewiston n WHEN: The musical opened Thursday and runs through Friday n MORE INFO: Call the Artpark box office by phone at 716-754-4375 or visit online at www.artpark.net.