Jill-Christine Wiley is Glorious as Maria in The Sound of Music as Tour Comes to the Merriam TheaterWhen Jill-Christine Wiley was in kindergarten she fell in love with ballet and dance and attended a memorable performance of The Sound of Music.
The native of Lancaster, PA., fondly recalls being in the audience of her first stage musical – a high school production — along-side her mother, who remembers that Wiley sat on the edge of her seat.
As theater lore would have it, young Jill was so smitten with everyone on stage that she walked up to the girl who played Maria Rainer and declared “I am sure that this is what I want to do.” A few years, there she was auditioning for her first show, and she hasn’t slowed down since then.
Now, the lovely 25-year-old actress, is starring in that coveted leading role of Maria in the National Tour of The Sound of Music, back by popular demand from Tuesday, April 24 to Sunday, April 29, at Merriam Theater on the Kimmel Center Cultural Campus.
The time-honored Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, based on the beloved story of Maria and the von Trapp Family, is an audience favorite with a score that has won Tony, Grammy and Academy awards. The extremely memorable score includes: My Favorite Things, Edelweiss, Something Good, Climb Ev’ry Mountain, and of course, the title song Sound of Music.
“The Sound of Music is one of the most successful and celebrated movie musicals of all time,” said Anne Ewers, President & CEO of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia.
She said the Kimmel Center is thrilled to host the return of this beautiful new production to Philadelphia. “It’s the perfect way to pay tribute to the beloved songs and story that fans have grown up with.”Ted Chapin, the President of Rodgers & Hammerstein organization, said he waited for a moment when “we could discover The Sound of Music as it was originally created, because of the enormous success of the 1965 film, few were aware that it started life as a hit Broadway show in 1959 – and a very big hit at that!”
He added that “the artists behind this production embrace what the author wrote, looked at it all through modern eyes and, in doing so, found depth and resonance that has been recognized by critics and audiences across the country. It is like visiting an old friend, but finding yourself surprised as well. It’s also a reminder of why this show is such an evergreen.”
Wiley, who has performed regionally and nationally, most recently in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
Her credits include: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel (Carrie Pipperidge), Disney’s The Little Mermaid (Ariel – Best Actress, BroadwayWorld Phoenix), The Fantasticks (Luisa), Little Women (Beth), and the tour of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, as the understudy for Belle.
How are you enjoying the tour of The Sound of Music?
Jill-Christine Wiley: I woke up in Chicago this morning, so it is nice to be in a new city. With spring being so late, it feels like winter and even snowed a little here, so I am glad I kept my winter coat handy. I am looking forward to venturing out for deep dish pizza, and other Chicago delights.
I know that you are from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Tell me about your musical family.
JCW: I come from a musical family. My dad loves the classics and Broadway musicals. After I saw my first show, a high school production of The Sound of Music, I was constantly pleading with my parents to put me into theater camps and classes and more shows, and luckily they did.
Where did you perform early on?
JCW: There were community theaters in Hershey (PA) area. It very quickly became my go-to place. For me it wasn’t about sports or other activities, at the age of 10 I was asking adult actors for advice on my own performing arts career. Here we are – I am 25 years old, I have a BFA in musical theater, and this is my profession.
What advice has you helped you so far in your career?
JCW: Since I was a kid performing in theater I would say I listened to those who told me to make sure I got good grades in school. As a child I was constantly going from working as a professional to going back to being a child and getting excuses from school. So, I made sure to work hard when I was there.
Did you get advice from the adults you worked with early on?
JCW: Yes. I looked to these adult actors as role models and I saw and admired the dedication they have for their craft. This really set the tone for me. So, I would tell young performers, ‘never stop training, read more and more plays, never stop learning, and watch as much live theater as you can.’ This is an industry that is ever-evolving and no performance or work of art is ever complete, so that means that we have to grow with it. So I would tell others to continue their education and never stop learning. It’s a craft that you have to constantly hone, so that you are at your best each and every time you walk into an audition room.Tell me about the current tour?
JCW: The Sound of Music tour began rehearsing in New York City during the end of July/early August 2017 with the von Trapp children. Then the rest of the company came together and we opened in Seattle in September 2017. This is the third year of the tour, and it will continue until June 10.
How does it feel to be coming to Philadelphia?
JCW: We are very eager and excited to be coming to the Merriam Theater.
How long have you been aware of The Sound of Music?
JCW: Since kindergarten. This is a show that has followed me throughout my life. I played the role of Marta in a community theater production. Later on, I covered for Liesel. So revisiting this as a young adult woman is a whirlwind for me and I am loving, and savoring, every moment.
What do you love about this experience?
JCW: The creative team is so dedicated and they have so much heart and passion for this story. It is also truly amazing that this family lived this story and that is is part of our history. I am joining two legendary women — Mary Martin and Julie Andrews – who played this role, and I am only the third Maria to play this on the tour. I feel it is such a gift to play this role on tour; it is really a reward to play such an iconic role.How do you feel about working with the young actors and actresses who play the von Trapp children?
JCW: There’s nothing like working with children. There is really no better way to master craft then to see a child light up. So whenever I feel tired I have these remarkable, working kids to lift me up. These kids are traveling with us, they are doing school work in the lobby of a hotel or on a bus, and then they come to work at night. I can relate to each of them because I was that child pulling double duty. So, getting to perform with them each night is really special for me.
Do you have favorite songs in the show?
JCW: I love all of them. But My Favorite Things, Do Ri Me and The Lonely Goat Herd, are among my favorites because of the children. They remind me of how lucky I am to be performing a show that I truly love.
Did you do research before playing Maria on this tour?
JCW: I wanted to stay away from the movie again because the creative team wanted me to have my own fresh take on this production. I wanted to present a genuine and truthful Maria and to make her real. I did not want to replicate what Julie Andrews did. I did want to make Maria the world’s best babysitter. I did read Maria von Trapp’s autobiography and reading her story from her time at the Abbey, to young woman to mother, and her incredible journey to America was pretty powerful.
Were there any surprises in the book?
JCW: Yes. The real Maria was not quite as nice as we think she was. She was pretty gutsy. In fact, blowing the whistle in the house to keep track of the many children was her idea, and not the captains. She also puts her foot in her mouth, at times. But loving these children, music, her passion for her faith and God was all real. So, I loved taking a deep dive into the script and the score that Rodgers and Hammerstein so beautifully put together. Each night on stage I am getting to know Maria more and more and it’s a pretty wonderful role to get to know better acquainted with each night.
Why do you feel this show has endured for decades and continues to be enjoyed by generation after generation of families around the world?
JCW: I would say that some shows really hold up, and there is nothing like the classics. The underscoring, the music and lyrics for The Sound of Music are classic. Rodgers and Hammerstein know how to write an amazing show that stands the test of time and keeps circling back.
I am sure you are working nearly all the time. What are you doing during your time away from the show?
JCW: I am a puppy momma. I love my four-year-old multipoo who lives in New York, but will be with me in Philly. I am also a huge crafty person and I enjoy cooking and baking, especially cupcakes. I love to volunteer and working with kids. I help with child enrichment programs in which I teach the fundamentals of dance. When I am home in my bedroom I am a major movie buff, and read a lot or do crafts when I have spare time.
Who in your family has already seen the show and who will see it in Philadelphia?
JCW: My mom, Deb, came to the opening night in Seattle and having her there after all of the carpooling she did for every ballet class and voice lesson was really special for me to have her there. My dad, Keith, has seen the show. But, Philadelphia will be a big homecoming for me. One of my older sisters is coming to see the show for the first time with my 10-year-old niece, and other family members and friends when the tour comes to Philadelphia. I am really excited to see all of them and for them to see the show.
After performing so many years what advice do you have to pass on to the next generation of performers?
JCW: Embrace the mistakes you make and don’t be too harsh on yourself. You are always evolving as an actor. Continue to educate yourself and better yourself. Keep growing and learning. Always keep training, learning and growing.
How do you see your future?
JCW: Well, I will probably tour with the show for another year. But once the tour is over I will explore what the next few years will look like. I want to live the life of an artist and live in New York full-time. I will take classes, go on auditions, and see where the next adventure takes me. And get to spend some time with my dog. Life is good!For more information, please go to: www.SoundofMusicOn Tour.com. Tickets are on sale and can be purchased by calling 215-893-1999, by going to the website: www.kimmelcenter.org, or at the Kimmel Center Box Office. For group sales, please call: 215-790-5883.
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