The Hills Are Alive With Local Talent: A Quick Interview with Austin Colby in the National Tour of The Sound of Music

The hills are alive— with the sound of local talent! How delightful it is when local talent who grew up in the DMV area, and got their professional start in the district, returns to the nation’s capital on a national tour! In this TheatreBloom exclusive interview, we take just a quick moment to sit down with Austin Colby— of Richmond, VA and whose professional career got started in area regional theatres like Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia and Signature Theatre— and discuss playing Rolf in the current national tour of Rogers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music.

Thanks so much for giving us a moment, Austin! If you’ll just tell us who you are, who you’re playing and how you got involved with The Sound of Music tour, that would be great!

Austin Colby: Sure! I’m Austin Colby, and I play Rolf, the 17-year-old boyfriend. I started with The Sound of Music from the beginning. I actually was the understudy for Rolf and then later got bumped up to playing Rolf. It’s been an exciting process to be a part of it from the beginning. To be able to be in the room with Jack O’Brien from the beginning and working with the creatives, being able to bring my own stuff to the table, it’s been incredible.

What is it that you love about The Sound of Music?

Austin: It is timeless. It brings together all generations, you know? My favorite part of how it effects audiences is that you see three generations of families all enjoying it. You see grandparents bringing their grandchildren to the show and saying, “this is what I grew up watching, this is what I loved.” It’s so special; it’s so timeless. The music is so memorable and it’s so singable! Whenever I say I’m in The Sound of Music playing Rolf, they automatically starting singing “16 Going on 17” without fail! The story is so important. Jack O’Brien talks about when he was directing this, how everyone makes choices and everyone takes risks. In this story it’s so apparent and we’ve really tried to capture the danger of the time period and the pressing matters and I think that’s really, really special.

Everyone starts off loving Rolf, because as you mentioned, he is the 17-year-old boyfriend, wanting to do right and take care of Liesl. But then…

Austin: That’s right. I mean, Rolf definitely goes through a lot and he makes his choices and he definitely deals with the consequences of his choices.

What’s your favorite part of the show?

Paige Silvester (left) as Liesl and Austin Colby (right) as RolfMatthew Murphy
Paige Silvester (left) as Liesl and Austin Colby (right) as Rolf

Austin: That’s a good question. Hmm. I think the way the set design and the lighting design and the way that Jack O’Brien has staged the true transition of the Nazi Party taking over is so powerful. I can’t wait for you to see it. It’s this gradual process and everyone is hinting at it. I say “heil!” and one point, and then Her Zeller comes in and threatens the Captain’s family; that all happens and then when we get to the festival— these Nazi banners juts fall from the sky. It’s just so jarring. There are these big swastikas right in front of you and I just think that’s so powerful. You can really hear the audience gasp.

You’re from this area originally? What’s it like to be back in your home area?

Austin: Oh it’s wonderful! I have so many people coming to see the show. My mom isn’t too far away; she’s in Winchester, VA, and she’s bringing some people to see the show. I actually grew up in Richmond, and when I graduated high school my family moved to Winchester. My mom and my grandparents still live there. So that’s kind of home now. Caroline (Broadway Actress Caroline Bowman) my fiancée, her family is in Fulton, MD so they’re close by. And we have a lot of friends and family that are very close by in that area as well. I worked in this area for two or three years and I created a family through the theatre community here.

What would you say being on this tour has taught you about yourself?

Austin: I have learned a lot. I think the biggest thing I’ll take away is appreciating times that you’re working. It’s a difficult business. To be able to do a show that I grew up watching, that I care about the message that we’re sending and to be able to do that not only for one specific town but go all around the nation and share this really important story? It’s pretty priceless. I’m very lucky to be a part of that.

Why do you want people to come and see The Sound of Music?

Austin: Like I said, the story is pretty timeless. It reaches all generations. Kids can come see their peers on stage and get an appreciation for the arts this way. They can learn about our history. They can get a great appreciation for classical musical theatre with this show.

What does The Sound of Music mean to you?

Austin Colby as RolfMatthew Murphy
Austin Colby as Rolf

Austin: Music has been a part of my life from the beginning. Music is a comfort. I was talking about growing up watching The Sound of Music, and my mother also sings. I always thought that she was very much like Julie Andrews. I was watching Mary Poppins and Sound of Music and I always thought my mom *was* Julie Andrews, really. She always talked about growing up watching Sound of Music, and she wanted to be like Maria. She wanted to be a nun who could have children and who could sing and play guitar. I think The Sound of Music is just home and comfort and it holds a special place in my heart.

Anything else you want to say about the experience?

Austin: I’m working with some of the best people in the business. To rub up against them onstage is such a pleasure and I’ve learned so much from them!

The Sound of Music plays through July 16, 2017 on the Opera House Stage of The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts— 2700 F Street NW in Washington, DC. For tickets call the box office at (202) 467-4600 or purchase them online.

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