feature photo by Matthew Murphy
“Maria” needs no introduction. The Sound of Music is a classic story we’ve all seen a time or two. Yet, it never gets old. Come to the Kimmel Center’s Merriam Theatre between April 24th and 29th to relive this beloved musical based on the memoir The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria von Trapp. For the few of you who may be unfamiliar, Maria is a young Austrian woman who wants to become a nun, but is sent to the home of a retired naval officer to be the teacher of his seven children. It’s a story about discovering love, patience, and kindness. Set in a time of fear and uncertainty, Maria helps her new family find the strength and courage to continue on.
We spoke with this tour’s Maria, who is played by Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s Jill-Christine Wiley. She has performed regionally and nationally with credits that include Belle in Beauty and the Beast, Carrie Pipperidge in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel, Ariel in The Little Mermaid, Luisa in The Fantasticks, and Beth in Little Women.
Q: You grew up not far from Philly in Lancaster. What sparked your interested in theatre and what regional performances/roles were you in while living in Pennsylvania?
A: I come from a very musical family, so it’s no surprise I was bit by the acting bug very early on. I was first introduced to the performing arts when I was in kindergarten. From there, I started dance and voice training and later started auditioning for local theatre as much as my parents would let me. My first show was at The Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre, and from then on I would plead with my parents to take me to as many auditions as possible. I performed at The Fulton Theatre throughout my childhood and high school years, as well as various other theatres in the Ephrata and Hershey areas. Lancaster County has so much to offer in the arts and I am so grateful to have grown up in such a community where the arts are thriving!
Q: Sound of Music is a classic. What was your first experience seeing the musical and/or movie?
A: My first Sound of Music experience was also my first Rodgers & Hammerstein and musical theatre experience. My high school alma mater was putting on their spring musical and my mom thought it would be a good idea to take me—and boy was she right! I was hooked! I sat on the edge of my seat and, after the show, I went right up to the girl who played Maria, handed her a rose (that I asked my mom to buy in the lobby at intermission so I could give it to her) and told her how wonderful she was. I think seeing seven children up on stage singing and dancing also gave me the idea, “Hey, I could do that too!” Well, here we are, how many years later…thanks for taking me to see The Sound of Music, momma!
Q: What are your favorite numbers from Sound of Music?
A: Of course the title song is very near and dear to my heart, but I also really enjoy singing “My Favorite Things” with our Mother Abbess, and later again in Act II with the von Trapp Children!
Q: How did you prepare for the role of Maria?
A: The first thing I did was go right to her autobiography. I wanted to “get to know her” as best I could. I’m not only storytelling on stage each night, I’m “truth-telling.” I guess it’s also helpful getting to refer back to my nanny days in Manhattan—it made it a lot easier getting into those “governess shoes.”
Q: In what ways are you similar to Maria?
A: I’m such a goober! She’s very quirky and carefree and has so much heart in everything that she does. When I was in the audition process, reading the sides, it felt so natural to step into her world and to just “play” in the audition room. When I would be called into the audition room, I would kick off my heels so I could sing the title song barefoot—it’s just what I thought Maria would have done. I think I can relate to her in so many ways, and each night I learn a little bit more about her. She truly brings out the best version of myself.
Q: Why do you think the good people of Philadelphia should come see this show?
A: For a city that is so full of history, come see a show that is in fact historically based, centering in on such a relevant topic in our world today. As they say, history repeats itself, and I think this show can serve as a launch pad in discussion for both the young and the young at heart.
Q: Is there anything you are looking forward to checking out here in Philly during your downtime?
A: I am so excited to be back in Philly because it is so close to home! I have so many loved ones who will be in the audience throughout the week, and I am eager to catch up with them all. To have such influential point people who have made an impact on my life both personally and professionally, getting to have them there means the world to me. In a way, it’s like a homecoming for me and a giant way to show my gratitude them all.