When Litchfield Community Theatre’s production of “The Sound of Music” takes the stage at Bernie Aaker Auditorium next week, it will do so with a cast familiar to many who follow local theater.
Even if those actors haven’t been on a local stage in a while.
But having the likes of Adam Stern, Ali Lundin and Angela Likens — along with many others — is a luxury that first-time LCT director Tim Nelson appreciates.
“The talent level is so high here,” Nelson said as he sat on the stage prior to rehearsal Monday evening. “Some of the people like Adam and Angela, who have done shows here in the past, but haven’t recently, a lot of them have come back for this production for one reason or another. That’s how I was able to, I feel, cast everyone just perfectly in all these great roles. Everything’s sort of lined up for this show.”
Among the things that “lined up” was Nelson directing the show. Though it’s his first time directing a Litchfield Community Theatre show, Nelson boasts a distinguished theater pedigree.
And he has actually worked in Litchfield before — writing and directing the musical history “Litchfield is Our Home,” which was performed at the Litchfield Opera House during the city’s sesquicentennial in 2019.
Several members of the Litchfield Community Theatre Inc. board of directors saw the show and were intrigued with the idea of Nelson directing the summer musical in 2020, he said. Of course, COVID-19 came along, scuttling the show. But it didn’t change his or the board’s commitment to have Nelson direct.
So when things began opening up this year, Nelson was ready to take the reins of “The Sound of Music” — even if it’s meant a jet-setting kind of lifestyle.
Nelson attended orchestra rehearsal Sunday evening at Bernie Aaker Auditorium, hours after flying in to Minnesota from California, where he opened “The Music Man” at the Rose Center Theater in Westminster. Nelson is theater artistic director at Rose Center Theater and HB Academy for the Performing Arts in Westminster. During the summers, he’s also directed summer season shows at the Park Playhouse in Albany, New York for many years, though this year Nelson stepped back a bit — because of his Litchfield commitment — and will “only” be the musical director, most of which he handles via Zoom rehearsal.
It’s a hectic schedule Nelson has kept since at least April, when he ran a youth actor workshop through Community Education, something he planned as a way to recruit and prepare young people for “The Sound of Music” auditions.
“The von Trapp kids are so important in this,” Nelson said of characters in the show. “I wanted to give them every opportunity. So, I thought, well, I’ll do a workshop on how to audition, you know, what to expect.”
It was one of many new twists — the return of a live orchestra was another — Nelson has suggested to the LCT Inc. board, and it worked as he hoped, drawing about 40 young people to the workshop. Many of those who participated — and several more — returned for auditions in late May, and their talent was such that Nelson implemented another change. Instead of casting seven von Trapp children, he cast 14, giving him two complete sets of actors for the key roles.
“This is something I’ve done. I always have double-cast the kids, because just with kids, they have so many commitments … if I double-cast it, I always had somebody there when I needed to stage,” Nelson said. “And I ended up with a great group of 14 kids.”
Wanting to retain the talent and enthusiasm of those not cast as von Trapp children, Nelson added a small scene where the children perform at the music festival near the end of the story.
“I actually created a little space for them in the show, for the 30-some that were not part of the von Trapps, but are still very talented,” he said. “I’m going to give a performance opportunity for them here, in this great theater. It’s kind of a win-win, I think — except for maybe the costumer, who had to come up with 40 more costumes.”
Also a win-win, Nelson said, is the availability of veteran actors like Stern, Lundin and Likens, all of whom have impressive theater resumes of their own. Additionally, the supporting cast — those behind the scenes doing technical work, costume designers, set designers and the like have been tremendous assets as he shuttles between California and Minnesota, he said.
“They’re wonderful, and they’ve been wonderful to work with,” Nelson said. “We have quite a pool of talent, not only from Litchfield but surrounding communities as well. I feel like the level of talent in this show is wonderful. The two that kind of lead it all, Ali and Adam, (are) just spectacular.
“It’s a great show, a lot of talent, and I just hope everyone comes to see it,” Nelson concluded.