Linwood native shows it takes talent and grit to star in 'Sound of Music'

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The von Trapp family ready to delight the audience with “Edelweiss;” featuring Rachel Olivo, Matt Lischin, Bridget McMenamin, Victoria Robertson, Craig Mulhern, Sophie Goldstein, Kate Michel as the children and Rachel Handler of Linwood as Maria and Jefferson Heller of Ventnor as Capt. Von Trapp.  The von Trapp family ready to delight the audience with “Edelweiss;” featuring Rachel Olivo, Matt Lischin, Bridget McMenamin, Victoria Robertson, Craig Mulhern, Sophie Goldstein, Kate Michel as the children and Rachel Handler of Linwood as Maria and Jefferson Heller of Ventnor as Capt. Von Trapp. Opening Thursday in Margate
MARGATE — One of the most beloved shows of all time will open Thursday, Aug. 14 at the Dominick A. Potena Performing Arts Center with the Beth El Synagogue summer production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s "The Sound of Music."

While a number of local theater groups have recently presented more modern shows, director Gina Liscio said the group wanted to bring a classic to the stage this summer and that with the talented cast they brought together, "The Sound of Music" is a great fit.

A number of the characters in the show are double-cast to give the group the best chance to showcase their talents. However, the main characters, Maria and Capt. Von Trapp, will be played by Rachel Handler of Linwood and Jefferson Heller of Ventnor in all performances.

For Handler, 26, a 2006 graduate of Mainland Regional High School and a veteran of stage performance and film, her portrayal of Maria is akin to the song “Climb Every Mountain,” as she is working hard to achieve her dreams despite some daunting obstacles that might have kept her from heading into the limelight.

A simple fender bender quickly turned into a life-altering change two years ago. Handler said she was driving from her apartment in Astoria to an audition in South Jersey when she had a minor accident on Route 287 near the turnpike. She and the other driver pulled off the road and were exchanging information, waiting for the police to arrive when another car careened off the roadway and struck Handler. She lost her leg, and all her plans were abruptly changed in that split second.

Handler said she had an amazing team of doctors, and they had her up and walking on a prosthetic leg in six months. Despite setbacks and skin grafts, she has never given up the dream to return to the stage and perform.

She did a show for the Ocean City Repertoire Theater, a female version of "The Odd Couple." Last summer she got a call from someone who had found her website about her accident, her acting career and her prosthetic leg and she was cast in a film by “Dukes of Hazard” veteran John Schneider. The former TV actor went on the other side of the camera to write, produce and direct a horror film called “Smothered.” The title role was about a person with a prosthetic leg, and once Schneider met Handler, she was his choice for the lead.

“I had never done a film previously, and this was such an amazing experience for me,” said Handler.

The experience of the film gave more fuel to her dream to perform, she said. Most recently she has been working on a project called “Disabilidates.”

While home base for now switched from Astoria to Linwood, Handler continues to expand her roles. When not rehearsing for shows, Handler arranged flash mobs around the country, which she said is a fun job that allows people to make a plan to do something fast and fun together. She also gives voice lessons to young aspiring singers.

“I started working with some young singers and I was amazed at how much I enjoyed teaching and sharing my talent with them,” Handler said. “I have been very fortunate to have this gift, and it something that I truly enjoy sharing. Working with kids is really a great experience.”

She said she is enjoying working with youths on the set of "The Sound of Music" as well. Her favorite song in the show is “Do Re Mi.” It is the first time she and the children have a chance to sing together, and it is a happy moment in the show, she said.

This is the first musical Beth El Synagogue has staged in more than 10 years and there is a great deal of excitement about this tale of the singing von Trapp family escaping German occupation. With the help of Maria, a former nun, they learn to be a loving family once again, and together they find their dream.

The production has live orchestraaccompaniment. Debbie Roland is the music director, Sarah Jane Acampora is the choreographer, costumers are Ashleigh Wyant and Donna Andros is the prop master. The executive producer is James Klinghoffer, and the assistants to production are Emily Lewis, Rachel Waldman and Amy Anderson.

Show times at the Dominick A. Potena Performing Arts Center are 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 14, Saturday, Aug. 16 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 17 at 2 and 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children 8 and under.

The Margate Performing Arts Center is located at 7804 Amherst Avenue inside the Eugene A. Tighe School with parking on Winchester Avenue.

Watching the rehearsal Monday and waiting their turn for the stage is the other crew that will take the stage as the von Trapp children on Thursday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m.; from left is Eva Tjoumakaris, 13, of Linwood, Victoria Mozitis, 13, from Northfield, Michaela Sless, 13, from Margate, Helene Tjoumakaris of Linwood and Morgan Murphy, 10, of Margate. Watching the rehearsal Monday and waiting their turn for the stage is the other crew that will take the stage as the von Trapp children on Thursday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m.; from left is Eva Tjoumakaris, 13, of Linwood, Victoria Mozitis, 13, from Northfield, Michaela Sless, 13, from Margate, Helene Tjoumakaris of Linwood and Morgan Murphy, 10, of Margate.


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