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Playing Out "The Sound of Music' in Sterling

July 17-23, 2002

Sterling Playmaker Andrea Hepfinger, 14, comes home from practice telling her parents she loves her family.

Eight children and 38 adults, along with the behind-the-scene crews for "The Sound of Music," are included in this second family, developed after nine weeks of practice. Andrea's father Jim Hepfinger is in the cast, so he is in both.

"I'm always having a good time when I come here. It's always good and fun," Andrea said as she sat in a circle with the other children cast in the community theater's summer musical. "If I have a bad day at school, I can come here," said the Herndon girl.

The children explained why they want to act in their favorite musical, which was first staged in 1959, and what keeps them coming to practice.

"The Sound of Music" takes place in Austria during the Third Reich's march through Austria. Maria Reiner serves as a governess to Capt. Von Trapp after his wife dies. The six children, who did not like their other caretakers, and then the captain fall in love with Maria before the Von Trapps escape to Switzerland, not being supporters of the Nazi cause. Maria is played by Karen Schlumpf and the captain by Stephen Smith, both of Ashburn.

"Maria and the captain have bonded with the kids, which is natural. They play the role of the parents, and they are all good kids," said Ashburn resident Liz Harrington, production manager for the Sterling Playmakers.

THE FAMILY took work to build. Twenty boys and 170 girls auditioned for the parts of two brothers, a boyfriend and five sisters. Another 70 to 80 adults tried out for the 38 adult parts. The cast members began practicing in May four nights a week until this Friday when another night will be added to their schedules. At that point, they will have a week left until opening night July 9.

"The closeness you need is there. It's repetition and hanging out with each other," Harrington said. "You have a little bit of fun and a little bit of tension, just like a family. That makes you bond automatically. It's human nature."

Karl Meier, who is 19 and lives in Sterling, said he never worked with "a cast that bonded so quickly."

"This cast was tight from the first day," said Karl, who plays the part of 17-year-old Rolf going on 18.

Five-year-old Sierra Wharton befriended Heather MacNeil, 6, after her first two nights of practice. "The only problem is she talks on stage," she said.

Sierra joined the cast five weeks ago to team up with Heather in the role of Gretl, a 5-year-old Von Trapp sibling. "It's fun. It's like I have friends. They keep me safe," said the Ashburn girl about the rest of the cast.

EIGHTEEN-year-old Katherine "Katie" Dykhoff of Herndon tried out for the part of Leisl, who is 16 going on 17, to be around younger children.

"You're with them more than with your real family, so there's a lot of bonding that goes on," Katie said. "It's funny for me, because I feel like one of the kids. Everyone treats me like a kid."

Sterling girl Meghan MacNeil, 12, notes the adult attention the children cast members receive. "There's just a few kids in this, so they pay more attention to you," said Meghan, whose sister is Heather, one of the Gretls.

As for their reasons for wanting to act in "The Sound of Music," the children mentioned their love of the movie, which came out in 1965, six years after the stage production premiered. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II wrote the musical based on the book, "The Story of the Trapp Family Singers," a true story written by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse.

"It seemed like a lot of neat scenes to be acting out," Meghan said, adding that she found the emotional scenes to be more difficult. "We have to be serious and sometimes you get the giggles. It's harder to be serious."

Karl agreed. "It's a different type of role than I had in the past. It's a serious role that has a dark side," he said. "I've learned how to start showing more emotion on stage. I have to be completely in love with someone but completely confused by the Nazi conflict. I've never had to show that before."

The Sterling Playmakers have 135 household members and is in participation with the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services.