The Sound Of Music Is Alive At Lyric Opera
By Jessica Mlinaric in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 29, 2014 8:30PM
The Sound of Music may be the most beloved musical of all time. Given the daunting weight of expectation by generation-spanning fans of the 1959 stage production and the 1965 film, the Lyric Opera of Chicago spared no resource in mounting its magnificent production. The Sound of Music opened on Sunday and runs through May 25 at the Civic Opera House (20 N. Wacker Drive).
The production opens with the sound of church bells and a chorus of twenty nuns at prayer. The nuns deliver powerful and poignant vocals throughout, notably in the wedding scene. Grammy Award winner Christine Brewer lends her world-renowned soprano to the role of Mother Abbess, whose “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” is show-stopping.
Jenn Gambatese’s (Wicked) Maria springs down the mountain in Andrews fashion, a charming combination of dazed and determined. Her splendid voice and lively performance navigate Maria’s transition from nun to governess to baroness to refugee, even pulling off an onstage costume change. Billy Zane’s (Titanic) vocals may not be the highlight of his Captain von Trapp, but the Chicago native is well-suited to the role of the stoic military man learning to open his heart again.
The delight of this production is the youthful local talent of Betsy Farrar (Liesl), Brady Tutton, (Friedrich), Julia Schweizer (Louisa), Michael Harp (Kurt), Isabelle Roberts (Brigitta),KyLee Hennes (Marta), Zach Sorrow (Rolf), and the particularly scene stealing Nicole Scimeca (Gretl). The von Trapp children offer lovely harmonies while riding bicycles onstage in for "Do Re Mi" and faux-puppeteering during the "The Lonely Goatherd" rainstorm sequence.
Fans of the film will be surprised to hear two songs led by Elizabeth Futral as icy Elsa Schraeder restored to the show. “No Way To Stop It” frames the differences at the root of Elsa and the Captain’s dissolving relationship amid the political crises of the Nazi annexation of Austria. This socio-political reinforcement is welcome, however the song along with Elsa’s “How Can Love Survive” are the production’s most cumbersome moments. Broadway veteran Edward Hibbert (Gil Cheserton of TV's Frasier) as impresario Max Detweiler easily delivers one-liners for comic relief in the “last golden days of the thirties.”
Director Mar Bruni’s (“Beautiful”) Lyric debut is a sensory treat. Michael Yeargan’s stunning sets transport Maria from the solemnity of Nonnberg Abbey to the lavish von Trapp family villa under the watchful eye of the Alps. Robert Fisher conducts 37 members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Michael Black leads the 25-member choral ensemble. Sound design by Mark Grey renders Rodgers & Hammerstein for the opera house with visual compliment by Alejo Vietti’s costume design and lighting design by Duane Schuler. Choreography by Denis Jones particularly charmed during the “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” number and Maria and Captain von Trapp’s turn at the "Ländler."
Despite a swiftly moving story, the running time just under three hours may drag for some children but the superb talent and production quality is more than worth the visit. The Sound of Music is the second production in the American Musical Theater Initiative launched by Lyric last year. Audiences can look forward to an operatic take on South Pacific and Carousel coming up in the series. In the face of anticipation looming larger than the Austrian Alps, Lyric’s The Sound of Music comes out on top.