HIGHY RECOMMENDED: THEATRE IN CHICAGO
To say that Lyric Opera’s opulent and poignant new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music is perfection would be an understatement. Regardless of how many productions of the stage play you have sat through or the countless Christmas evenings spent with Julie Andrews as the Oscar winning movie gets trifled through your television, this is a version of original intent.
The success of Lyric’s production rests squarely on the grand yet real vision of director Marc Bruni who precisely balances the humoresque musicality of the piece with the overall dark foreboding tone of country and its people on the brink of occupation. The Sound of Music, of course is the real life telling of the Von Trapp family singers, who with the help and guidance their postulant-governess turned mother, escaped capture of the Nazi’s during the Austrian invasion.
For many valid reasons, the film version of The Sound of Music has always eclipsed the stage version, which was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s last collaboration as the later lost his battle with cancer. Cinematography and better song placement made the film a bit more of a coherent storyboard (having Julie Andrews didn’t hurt it either), while numerous banal touring productions (not to mention the abomination of the recent tv adaptation) have done the stage show a disservice. That is way the Lyric’s production is so welcome.
Mr. Bruni has selected a cast that utterly transforms the work into a relevant and relatable historical event. As Maria, Jenn Gambatese (our most recent Glinda in Wicked) is triumphant. Instantly likable and with innate command of the stage, Ms. Gambatese is a modern day, strong and smart governess. She has control of every note of a very difficult score and has a soprano belt only Kristen Chenoweth and Rebecca Luker could compete with. Best of all there is nothing forced or false in her performance, which makes the relationship with the children all the more synergetic and sympathetic. Gambatese’s onstage chemistry with Billy Zane’s stalwart Captain Von Trapp is palpable, where their end of the first act dance defines their relationship, with not a word being uttered. This scene alone is worth the price of admission.
And with that, the Von Trapp children give performances most adult actors couldn’t pull off. Betsy Farrar is a feisty and fabulous Liesl; Brady Tutton, who recently brought down the house at Drury Lane as the title character in Oliver!, gives Friedrich a touching modern day adolescent outsider relatability and Michael Harp’s Kurt vocally commands many of the famous ensemble numbers. Julia Schweizer (Louisa); Isabelle Roberts (Brigitta) Kylee Hennes (Marta) and Nichole Scimeca (a scene steeling Gretl) are each connected to their characters that is viserle, making us believe every minute that they are brothers and sisters who rely on each other for emotional survival.
This Sound of Music is also buoyed by a supporting cast that elevates it to the heavens, as Christine Brewer proves as Mother Abbess. There was not a dry eye in the house after Brewer exalted Climb Every Mountain closing out the first act and second act finale, which no doubt reached the ears of the her voice’s Creator. Elizabeth Futral gives us a Frau Schradeder who is multi-layered and in the end, sympathetic, which is how the part was inteneded but which few actress can pull off. Edward Hibbert’s Max Detweidler is a great comedic match with Futral (though make no mistake as it is Detweideler that sets their escape in motion); Zach Sorrow’s Rolf is never sappy or trite and plays the role much darker than I have previously seen which makes his final decision at the Abby all the more understandable.
Technically flawless the Lyric team has outdone themselves with one of the most gorgeous and functional sets to be built in this city or any other, all under the helm of Michael Yeargan and gorgeously lit by Duane Schuler (his shadowing of the Nazi soldier’s is chilling) allowing Alejo Vietti’s costumes, which are period perfect to look all the more authentic.
Musically, the Lyric orchestra under the precision baton of Rob Fisher, proves why they are considered the best of the best aided by Mark Grey’s full balanced sound design.
Lyric Opera continues to prove that melding musical theatre with grand opera only adds to the truth of a piece. This has never been more true of The Sound of Music which was in desperate need of a quality revival. Who knew that the Lyric would do more than just revive the musical but give it the definitive production that the stage show has always deserved.
The Sound of Music plays through May 25, 2014 at Lyric Opera’s Civic Opera House 20 N. Wacker Drive in Chicago. For tickets and additional information, please visit www.lyricopera.org. For calendar information visit www.theatreinchicago.com