Sydney Steele has never tried out for the role of Maria in The Sound of Music. But on the next two weekends, she will play the iconic role for the second time, in Paragon Music Theatre's production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic.
The first time she auditioned for Sound of Music, her expectations were low.
Steele was 14, a freshman at the School for the Creative and Performing Arts at Lafayette High School. She had come up empty in auditions for the first musical of the school year, Guys and Dolls. So she was going to be happy to get anything out of Sound of Music auditions.
And she got Maria.
"There was all this drama about a freshman getting the lead in The Sound of Music, and all the other girls hated me," Steele says, adding that the hard feelings softened and turned to friendship during rehearsals and in subsequent years.
Being a bit of an outsider helped to inform her performance as Maria, who spends most of the first act as an outsider. The story follows Maria, a novice who is sent to be the governess in an Austrian captain's home after she has trouble fitting in at a convent. The musical is based on a true story: Maria eventually fell in love with and married the captain, and with his children they became The Trapp Family Singers. The family famously fled Austria as the Nazi regime took over in the 1930s.
"It was awesome," Steel says of her first go-round as Maria. "It was an amazing experience."
Leading roles weren't unprecedented for Steele, who played Dorothy in the Lexington Children's Theatre's production of The Wizard of Oz in 2005. Her other acting parts included Luisa in Actors Guild of Lexington's production of The Fantasticks and Ado Annie in The Woodford Theatre's Oklahoma!
During Paragon's casting for The Sound of Music, Steele, now 18, went to the children's audition, hoping to be cast as Liesl, the oldest Von Trapp girl, who gets to sing Sixteen Going on Seventeen.
She got the part. But a few weeks later, after the adult auditions, she got a call from director Robyn Peterman-Zahn.
"She said, 'Sydney, how would you feel about playing Maria?'" Steele says.
Music director Ryan Shirar says, "She leapt off the page as someone who was different than everybody else, someone who could present Maria in a way that was probably more authentic because of where she is in life. She is on the threshold of going someplace new and doing new things with her life, so she really appealed to us as Maria, who has to make a huge change in her life."
This probably will be Steele's last local performance for some time. She graduated from SCAPA-Lafayette in June and is preparing to leave for the musical theater program at Oklahoma City University, whose graduates include Broadway and TV star Kristin Chenoweth and Lexingtonian Lyndy Franklin Smith, who has been in several Broadway productions, including A Chorus Line.
"I was very excited this is what I get to go out on," Steele says. "Coming from doing it at Lafayette in Beeler Auditorium with all kids my age to getting to do it now with a full orchestra and a great set ... I feel like it's kind of come around."
Even though she never tried out for the role either time, she says, "I'm happy with how it turned out."