Photo: Matthew Murphy
Photo: Matthew Murphy

Sixteen Going on Seventeen: The Sound of Music’s Paige Silvester

Our city is buzzing about one of the 20th century’s most beloved musicals, currently at the Kennedy Center Opera House through July 16. The Sound of Music tour has finally made its way to the nation’s capital after nearly two years, with Tony Award-winning director Jack O’Brien at the helm. We caught up with actress Paige Silvester, who plays Liesl Von Trapp and has been with the tour from the start, about playing her dream role and why the musical is more relevant than ever before.

On Tap: What first drew you to the role of Liesl?
Paige Silvester:
I grew up watching The Sound of Music, of course, and Liesl was always a dream role because I idolized teenage girls. I would force my little brother – who doesn’t do theater, he’s a soccer player – to play Rolf and Liesl with me. We had a U-shaped couch, and I would make him dance around and jump from cushion to cushion and pretend it was the gazebo in the movie and we’d sing “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” It’s really nice to get a chance to play the role. It’s a beautiful story that was definitely integral to my desire to do musical theater.

OT: How has your approach to playing Liesl evolved over the past two years?
PS:
I think I’ve been able to keep it fresh because the travel is really stimulating to me. We’re always in a new theater in a new city. The audiences react differently every night, so that’s fun.

OT: What has it been like to bring this production to the Kennedy Center?
PS:
It is so exciting to perform there. The gravity of performing in that theater really elevates the whole experience. I think the audience is really excited to come to the theater when they’re seeing a show there and so they’re right there with you. It’s a really excited, vocal audience, especially for this show, because everybody has a history with it; it’s nostalgic. I think when they sit down, they’re excited to see the show, but as it progresses, they might be drawn in because it’s a little bit different of a production – different messages might be illuminated throughout the night sitting in the theater, so they really go on a journey with you. It’s an intelligent audience and we appreciate that so much onstage because we feel that energy and we feed off of it. It’s really fun to perform here.

OT: Do you have a favorite song(s) in the musical?
PS:
I really love to perform “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” It’s just a blast to perform with Austin Colby, who plays Rolf. We have a fun connection. I also really love “Edelweiss,” especially in today’s climate and being here in DC, it feels just ever so relevant; so that has been extra powerful in the last few months. Our Captain [Von Trapp], Nicholas [Rodriguez], just does a fantastic job with it. He brings tears to my eyes every night.

OT: Why do you think this production of The Sound of Music is relatable to audience members in their 20s and 30s?
PS:
Our show is fun because a lot of people grew up with it and know it, but because of that too, they might think, “Oh, it’s stuffy old Sound of Music that I used to watch with my grandma,” or something like that. But I think that the messages that we have really worked to illuminate in this production [and] the topical relevance of the story right now, and not even just right now, but just that we find always relevant in society…the questions of morality that it brings up, and doing what you think is right and wrong, and the power of religion and love and family, and the importance of music – they’re all really universal topics. I also think our production is younger and fresher and a little bit sexier. It really is fast-paced, and it’s visually stunning. Our set design by Douglas Schmidt and lighting design by Natasha Katz, who just won a Tony Award last weekend – they’re beautiful. It feels like a Broadway production, and if you have the opportunity to see something like that in your hometown, you really should.

OT: What is the best part of being in the show?
PS:
Performing at the Kennedy Center is really, really special. I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time, and I can’t believe after two years that this part of the tour is already here. I didn’t over-hype it in my mind. I’m excited to be here. And I get to perform a lot with the kids that are in the show, and every night, they bring something really different to it. You never know quite where you’re going to catch them. For them, it’s just fun. It’s not work for them. If I’m overthinking anything or if I’m tired, I just have to look at them and they give me all the inspiration that I need and just take it back to the place I was in when I decided this is what I wanted to do for my career and the rest of my life, because it can just be such simple fun. They’ve been a really good source of inspiration for me.

The Sound of Music runs at the Kennedy Center Opera House through July 16. Tickets start at $49. Go to www.kennedy-center.org to learn more.

The Kennedy Center: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org