When Tiffany Solano talks about playing Maria in The Sound of Music at the Dallas Theater Center, she makes something clear.
“I am not Julie Andrews, and I will never be Julie Andrews,” Solano said with a laugh.
Now playing at the Wyly Theatre in the Dallas Arts District through April 24, Dallas Theater Center’s production is a reexamination of the beloved musical that became an iconic movie. This production has all of Richard Rodgers’ music and Oscar Hammerstein II’s lyrics. Every word of Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse’s book is preserved. This production aims to reveal the humanity of the legendary family.
“It’s based on real people and real events and frankly, in a time when socially and politically, the world was in complete turmoil,” Solano said. “The reason I’m excited about our version of The Sound of Music is because we’re really, really, really trying to tap into the human story there.”
Solano, a member of the theater’s Brierley Resident Acting Company, remembers watching Julie Andrew’s famous performance as a child on a set of two VHS tapes.
“As early as six or seven, I can remember watching the movie,’ Solano said.
As a teenager, she played the eldest Von Trapp child, Liesl, and was simply excited to be performing in one of the most well-known musicals of the twentieth century. Performing in the Dallas Theater Center’s production requires the cast to reconsider the history surrounding the story and the real lives shaped by that history.
“We’re all charged with looking at this piece through a new lens,” Solano said.
The cast visited the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum to learn more about what was happening in Austria in the 1930s.
“Having the opportunity to approach it with that knowledge and those stories and those human voices and faces, it has really shifted,” Solano said. “I’m just trying to tell the story as a storyteller.”
As rehearsals began, Russia invaded Ukraine, making the historical setting of the musical and the Von Trapp family’s war refugee story more resonant.
“It’s so relevant and heartbreaking that we as humans keep repeating our bad behavior,” Solano said. “It’s important that we learn from the past to move forward in hopefully a better, brighter and more positive way.”
With a set designed by Tony Award-winner Beowulf Boritt, the show defies audience expectations immediately.
“It’s incredible,” Solano said. “This one is spectacular and also a little scary and it really helps us tell the story in a way that’s new and unique and the minute the audience walks into the house and sees the set, they are going to know we’re not doing the traditional Sound of Music.”
The cast is diverse. As a little Latina girl, Solano did not imagine playing this role.
“Growing up, I wouldn’t have seen someone like me playing this role. I wouldn’t have even seen a brunette playing this role,” Solano said. “The opportunity to be on that stage and represent for other little girls that wouldn’t have seen someone like me, that I didn’t get to see, is really important to me.”
The beginning of the show establishes the grief of the Von Trapp household following the death of the children’s mother. “
It’s raw. It’s okay to be a little messy and a little gritty and all of these things you don’t associate with The Sound of Music,” Solano said.
Solano’s seven-year-old daughter, Sofia DeSena, is playing Gretl. When DeSena first saw the children in the movie The Sound of Music, she realized she could be in a musical just like her mother. She has been singing “So Long, Farewell” since she was a toddler.
“When I tell you she has been rehearsing for this role since she was three years old, I’m not kidding,” Solano said.
DeSena prepared for her audition on her own, singing “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” from Cinderella and “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” from Annie.
“I’m blown away by her. She is this incredible, smart, curious, sweet, sassy – all of the things little girl,” Solano said.
While DeSena has appeared in commercials, the Dallas Theater Center’s Public Works Dallas’ production of As You Like It, and The Elevator Project’s Lucha Teotl, this role is the most demanding for her. She developed a character, has lines, and she knows her music and her choreography.
“It’s really fun for me to watch her make acting choices,” Solano said.
Solano is savoring this mother-daughter experience.
“We’ll have these memories forever,” Solano said. “This moment in time is really special.”