I’ve gone on the record as being a Sound of Music obsessive (I even liked the Carrie Underwood version!). But I will admit that when I heard about the current production being staged at the vaunted Lyric Opera of Chicago, I was a little hesitant. Would Maria wear a Brunhilde-style helmet rather than her wimple? Would the whole thing end in tragic death rather than a trek over the Alps?
My limited knowledge of opera to the contrary, Lyric’s production is a triumph, a faithful, gorgeously performed tribute to both the Rodgers & Hammerstein stage musical as well as the beloved 1965 movie version. The result is a supersized performance that combines nostalgia with social commentary, featuring the added-for-the-movie “I Have Confidence” and “Something Good” as well as the lesser-known “How Can Love Survive?” and “No Way to Stop It” from the Broadway show.
Devotees to the movie version are sure to notice a few other changes, such as the placement of “My Favorite Things” and “The Lonely Goatherd.” But the staging of the latter gives some cute nods to the movie’s marionette scenes for the diehards. And it’s remarkable how such a well-known story can still generate chuckles and gasps, even upon the umpteenth viewing.
Fittingly for Lyric, the music is sublime. The cast does an excellent job, especially Christine Brewer with a full-voiced take on the Mother Abbess’ “Climb Every Mountain” that closes out Act One. The Von Trapp children, played primarily by talented local kids, steal the show – especially Nicole Scimeca as sweet little Gretl. And Friedrich (Brady Tutton) nails his signature moment, the high note in “So Long, Farewell,” with aplomb.
Of course, a production of Sound of Music is only as good as its Maria, and Broadway vet Jenn Gambatese ably steps into Julie Andrews’ very large shoes. Her seemingly petite stature and braided hairstyle make her seem just as young and green as the real Maria must have been, and she gives the character a slightly comic edge to go along with her earnestness. Although the love story struck me as a little sudden (Titanic actor Billy Zane plays the Captain), the Ländler dance is even more achingly romantic than I remembered.
The staging is remarkable – miles above the multimillion dollar version produced by NBC. Each set is beautiful, and the transitions are seamless (except one unfurling of banners that inspired some giggles in the audience). There were some creative touches as well: I loved how the kids rode bicycles during the extended “Do Re Mi” sequence, as well as how a fountain substitutes for the famous gazebo in “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.”
With a running time of a little over three hours, the show could be long for some kids, although Lyric is going out of its way to cater to the younger set. The program includes a synopsis of the show, plus a word search, maze and SoM quiz, so they should stay busy during intermission. And judging by the large number of children at the show I attended, it seems like the musical has retained its kid appeal.
Oh, who am I kidding? In the Lyric Opera’s capable hands, The Sound of Music has retained its appeal for audiences of all ages. The hills are alive, indeed.
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Elizabeth Diffin is the senior editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Wheaton.
See more of Elizabeth's stories here.
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