Q&A with the Director of The Sound of Music
Keenon Hooks has an eclectic history at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. Last season he was the choreographer for the acclaimed musical Ragtime. In 2011 he appeared as a Traveling Salesmand and a River City Townsperson in The Music Man and Scum and a Featured Performer in The Greenshow. In 2022 he is returning as the director of the beloved musical The Sound of Music. He has also worked at a number of regional theatres including PCPA–Pacific Conservatory Theatre, Las Vegas Nevada Conservatory Theatre, Oregon Cabaret Theatre, Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre, and many more. He is the co-founder and dance director of Studio Collective Performing Arts. The Festival recently conducted this question-and-answer interview via email.
Utah Shakespeare Festival: What is the value of doing a musical today that was written over sixty years ago and has been performed hundreds of times all around the world?
Keenon Hooks: We can learn a great deal from shows written in a time other than our own, especially when they have historical value. The Sound of Music is a beloved story many know and love and have a great time with the music involved in the show. But it also takes place during a dark time, and even today we see the repercussions of war and how it affects normal lives just like the members of this beloved family.
The Festival: Many of the people who will see this play have seen it before, either as a stage musical or as a movie. What will this production offer them that may be different?
Hooks: Here at the Festival, we can expect the same story that many know and love, but our story will be told in a way that gives the story a modern take, all while honoring the original aspects of this story.
The Festival: Casting has not yet been completed, but we understand you are casting African American women as Maria and the Mother Superior. What is your goal with this casting, and how will it change or enhance the story?
Hooks: My goal is to make this European-based story more relatable to American audiences. Seeing this journey through the eyes of an African American woman, we can make this story feel more prevalent to ourselves instead of thinking of it as a distant European memory of the past. Joining Maria with an African American Mother Superior, we can find comfort for Maria having a person of color with strength in the show to lean on in her times of sorrow. And having someone of her own background to lean on will show an even stronger bond and drive our story in a beautiful way that we can all enjoy.
The Festival: As playgoers, what should we watch for in this production that may help us enjoy it and/or understand it more?
Hooks: Definitely how Maria’s journey affects everyone around her. We find in this time everyone seems to be living in dark or dull times. But Maria brings light, love, and laughter to all those she comes in contact with. From the nuns, to the Von Trappe Family, it’s a beautiful arc to watch everyone come to life around her.
The Festival: You have worked at the Utah Shakespeare Festival before as an actor and choreographer. What keeps you coming back the Festival?
Hooks: I love it here at the Festival. It’s truly an artistic hub that allows us artists to truly create unique art. As a director, it gives me a voice to tell this story in a way I’d like to in new ways, breaking away from the traditional mold. Some theatres stay stuck in the past, and don’t allow themselves to grow as time passes. But the Festival continues to grow in both the works it presents, as well as the teams and acting artists it brings in to tell these stories. And I’ll always be happy to return!
The Festival: Besides theatre business, what is the one thing you plan on doing this summer in Cedar City?
Hooks: Definitely hiking! Utah is one of the most beautiful states I’ve traveled to. And there are still plenty of hikes I’ve yet to experience. The main one being Zion. You’d think after several seasons I’d have made it over there by now, but I’ve been so focused on the shows I have yet to find the time. So this season, I plan to enjoy my downtime more and make my way there.