A Behind-the-Scenes look at The Sound of Music

(Editor's note: HappyValley.com's Jessica Hallman recently caught up with "The Sound of Music" actress Melissa McKamie (Elsa Schraeder), who gave us a sneak peek at the upcoming performance).

Sometimes, the best part of a live performance is seeing the production through a cast member’s eyes. In her first major role as part of a national tour, Melissa McKamie, who plays Baroness Elsa Schraeder, gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the upcoming "The Sound of Music" at Eisenhower Auditorium, and sheds light on the challenge in playing a rather unlikable role after she previously portrayed Maria in local and regional productions.

Give us a behind the scenes look of the production: What can audience members expect from this performance? Is there anything that really stands out?

Our production is based on the original stage play from the memoir that Maria Von Trapp wrote (The von Trapp Family Singers). It’s different from the film in terms of order of the songs, and the focus on the story instead of the romance. It illustrates resilience in times of struggle, and the healing power of music and finding your voice. The audience will have to see for themselves.

How do you deal with portraying Baroness Schraeder, who is a rather unlikeable character in the film, competing with Maria for Captain von Trapp’s attention?

It’s been such a challenge to see the story from Elsa’s point of view and dig into her character. It’s really easy to see her as this bad person or someone who has no morals and play her as an antagonist. Director Matt Lenz wanted her to not be unpleasant. Everything she does and says is intentional, but not mean in any way or belittling in any way. It is who she is. It’s been challenging to see.

I played Maria a few years ago. It came at a time in my life where I was in need of a lot of healing. Similar time of my time of life now with Elsa. The main difference is that Elsa is grown up and knows who she is. Every move she makes is deliberate. She’s a wealthy widow, and her main goal is survival and holding onto the stability that money brings to her. There’s a reason for every move that she makes. She doesn’t necessarily side with or against the Nazi party. She’s a realist; she’s just riding it out.

How does this role differ from others you have played?

I’ve been fortunate to play the loving warm, motherly type characters who use singing and music as an expression of love, truth, and vulnerability. In this case, Elsa is not a warm person. It’s challenging for me because I have a hard time identifying with her in a personal way. But it’s very important to tell her story. A lot of people will identify with her or have people in their lives who remind them of her.

This is your first major role in a national touring act. Tell us more about why you’re proud to be a part of this production.

I am so proud to be a part of this production. It is professional in every sense of the word, from the creative team, crew, sets, lighting and costumes. In each aspect of the show, the people involved are very passionate and spread that passion to audiences. It’s been a really positive and inspiring

Your bio states that you've sung along with Julie Andrews and Judy Garland when you were growing up. Tell me more about that, and your feelings knowing you've since held the regional lead role in both Mary Poppins and the Sound of Music.

I used to listen to their recordings…I used to sit for hours and watch the old movies and musicals. Julie Andrews was my role model and inspiration. I feel very grateful to have played those roles. I have no words.

When I played Maria previously, it was after Hurricane Sandy. I had been in a car accident and had lost my voice for over two weeks. Went to see an ENT who told me that I had vocal paralysis, and there was no cure except to wait and see. He said that if it did heal, it would take six months to a year. I was without a voice. I remember watching videos of Julie Andrews after she had had surgery and lost her voice. Luckily my voice came back, and the Sound of Music was my first professional gig after that. It was incredible to be able to sing that material. It put me back on a path to pursuing theatre and what I love.

What is the most rewarding thing about being a part of this production?

Hearing the audience’s feedback and what they walk away with. People say that they’ve cried like they’ve never cried before, and that the performance made them think. It’s rewarding to know that you’ve touched someone or made them think or feel something that

We also try to immerse ourselves in the communities we visit while on tour. Many cast and crew members participated in the Race for the Cure in Miami, and held a hurricane disaster relief fundraiser cabaret to raise money for victims of the recent hurricanes.

Is there anything in particular that you’re looking forward to exploring while you’re in State College?

Finding a local coffee shop to sit at. That’s where I get a sense of the community there. I like to go to open mic nights.

Being in a college town, you may find a lot of Penn State students in attendance during your upcoming performances. What is your advice to young students who aspire to be actors, or even those just looking to start their careers in whatever field they may be studying?

Find the things that bring you joy, not what anyone else told you to do. The things that really speak to you, follow those things.

Why should State College community members come see this performance?

Come out and see the show; you will be challenged. People think they know "The Sound of Music" This production makes you think about the story, and I think it can connect to all generations. You’ll be challenged and hopefully inspired.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

This is a step forward in my career…I’m so proud to be a part of something like this, something so professional and so relevant. Every detail has been handled with such care.

The Sound of Music will be on stage at Eisenhower Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, November 14 and Wednesday, November 15. Click here to learn more and to get your tickets.


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