Elissa Hanna of Forest City will sing her first solo in a big way, when she portrays the leading role of Maria VonTrapp in BrickStreet Theatre’s upcoming production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music.

“I have never sung a solo before or even had a part with more than one or two lines,” Hanna said.

Hanna’s first time on stage was only two Christmases ago as a chorus member in BrickStreet Theatre’s White Christmas. “Fortunately, I have loved this musical for so long and have seen it so many times that the lines and lyrics are coming fairly easily.”

Those who frequent the Forest City Farmer’s Market might recognize Hanna as owner of Happy Sweets Cupcakes. She is also wife to Jeremy Hanna and mother to twins Pemberly and Paisley. For the past month, she’s been studying lines and rehearsing music to also become a leading lady. Lynnea Fredrickson-Smith, the show’s director, noted the challenges of taking on such an iconic role as Maria.

“It requires more than just singing and acting abilities,” Fredrickson-Smith said. “You need to be able to exude a presence that reminds the audience of a character they know and love so well. Elissa is doing that beautifully.”

Hanna is also receiving strong reviews from Nathaniel Hedin-Schmidt, the show’s music director.

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“Elissa is stepping into a role she was meant for,” Hedin-Schmidt said. “Her tender heart and purity of voice made her a natural to portray this role. It was made famous by Julie Andrews, but Elissa makes it her own.”

Hanna said she forced herself to overcome nerves two years ago to show up – visibly nervous – to the auditions for White Christmas. Since then, she’s also appeared in other BrickStreet shows as a cop in The Pirates of Penzance and a chorus member/Older Belle in A Christmas Carol. When she auditioned for The Sound of Music, she wrote on her audition sheet she only wanted to be a nun. However, the role of Maria holds a special place.

“I don’t remember the first time I saw The Sound of Music, but it was a family favorite growing up. I’ve probably loved it from the first time I saw it,” she said. “Stepping into the role has been a challenge all around, but also a dream come true for me as I’ve been able to live through the character of Maria. I love how she is passionate about her life and how she fiercely loves the children.”

In fact, performing with the child actors portraying the VonTrapp children is a highlight for Hanna – in particular, singing classic songs with them such as “Do-Re-Mi” and “The Lonely Goatherd.” Audiences might be surprised by the placement and staging of some of the songs most familiar to them, as the stage version of The Sound of Music and the movie version differ, but all the favorite songs are performed.

“I think Elissa is a great example of one of the best things about community theatre,” Fredrickson-Smith said. “Just a year and a half ago, she’d never done theatre in her life; now she’s taking on an iconic role. It’s a great reminder that taking one step out of your comfort zone can open you to exciting things.”

This Rodgers and Hammerstein classic will be performed in the Boman Fine Arts Center on July 21-22 and July 26-28 with the Sunday matinees starting at 2 p.m. and all other performances at 7 p.m. Tickets are general seating only and cost $15 per adult and $10 per student. They are available through www.brickstreettheatre.org and the Forest City Chamber. Doors open 30 minutes prior to each performance. Those in need of accessible seating are asked to come early.

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