Anne Allgood: An Interview with Mother Abbess from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music

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Anne Allgood is a beloved and exceptionally talented actress in Seattle’s vibrant and thriving theater scene. The 5th Avenue Theatre has been lucky enough to count her as one of our favorite performers to work with, and anyone who has ever heard her sing and perform can understand why; Allgood brings a depth and richness to every character she brings to life onstage, and her vocal power is second to none. Allgood has appeared in three of our recent Rodgers & Hammerstein productions – as Aunt Eller in Oklahoma!, as Nettie in Carousel, and now as Mother Abbess in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music. We recently had the opportunity to catch up with Allgood about these fantastic female characters.

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Photo by Mark Kitaoka

What do you think dramatically and musically makes those three roles you played guiding forces in the each musical (or general)?

I don’t know why Rodgers & Hammerstein have these Earth Mother characters in so many of their musicals! Oklahoma! was an early collaboration for them, and it was based on a play (Green Grow The Lilacs) which had that Aunt Eller character already. And The Sound of Music is obviously based on a true story with real people. So they didn’t make the idea up themselves… But I think people respond to those maternal figures, those ‘wise women of the tribe,’ and also it seems easier to put warm and emotional words and anthems in their mouths. I can’t think of many ‘wise men of the tribe’ in musicals, except maybe Simba’s father from The Lion King (and he’s dead!). Call it old-fashioned, or ‘incorrect’ or whatever you like, but many of the classic stories seem to be about women guiding people (sometimes men, sometimes other women) to their best destinies, or to discoveries about themselves. (I’m thinking of shows from The King and I to City of Angels to Catch Me If You Can, and more.)

Each character sings a song that comes at a critical moment in the story. It reveals a character trait and almost seems to validate their wisdom and strength. Outside of those similarities, what would you say makes each character different (or perhaps there is no difference)?

1516_SoM_Anne Allgood Interview_Oklahoma pro photo
Photo by Chris Bennion

Well, actually, Aunt Eller does NOT have a song! She has a little speech about having to ‘stay hearty’ in the place where the big song would be—maybe Rodgers & Hammerstein expanded on that idea in subsequent shows and this sort of “Earth Mother Anthem” was born? Anyway, while the characters are similar in terms of their place in their communities (positions of social power and authority; not tied up with a spouse or children of their own but “caretakers” to other younger people), they do have differences, based in part on where they live. Aunt Eller is one of the wealthiest people in the Oklahoma Territory, a landowner. Cousin Nettie also runs her own business. They are in environments where emotionality is a liability – where one has to stay tough to survive. And those two are a bit “juicy”— flirting with the young men, dancing, delighting in shocking people with their senses of humor and enjoyment of “racy” subjects. The Mother Abbess obviously doesn’t behave in that way! But in the stage version of The Sound of Music, the song “My Favorite Things” is a duet for her and Maria—so that shows her zest for living and enjoyment of physical things—tastes, smells, sensations—as well as her humor. I think she’s able to be more frank and open in conversations about emotion, too, rather than having to have a ‘stiff upper lip’ Tough Love approach.

Of the three characters, which is one your favorite and why?

Don’t make me choose! I simply cannot.

Do you have any anecdotal or passing thoughts with regards to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals and the recurring archetypal character of the wise matriarch?

One more thought (which I might have said earlier): These “wise woman” songs which Rodgers & Hammerstein have written have taken on the status in our world today of ‘secular hymns’—we sing them at our graduations and funerals and such. Perhaps these characters give us ways to access the ‘Big Themes’ of these stories, and of life. As I said about the Mother Abbess—she has it all figured out and is thinking in terms of a bigger paradigm—a spiritual one. And to me, the best stories are not just about the here and now, but about what comes before and after and what connects us all. I think people want that, and that’s why these songs are so beloved.

By KWAPI VENGESAYI, Community Engagement Specialist
Featured photo by Tracy Martin

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