Chicago Theater Review: THE SOUND OF MUSIC (Drury Lane Theatre)

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by Dan Zeff on October 29, 2011

in Theater-Chicago


Although the Drury Lane Theatre extended the run of its revival of THE SOUND OF MUSIC even before the show opened, the laudable theater company might want to consider adding yet another extension. Director Rachel Rockwell returns after her triumphant production of Sweeney Todd to create an evening that every fan of both the blockbuster movie and the Broadway musical will want to see. Even those theatergoers who find the show nonessential viewing will be impressed by the creativity of the performances and staging.

The glory begins with the casting of Jennifer Blood as Maria, the erstwhile nun who finds love while assigned as a Governess to the seven children of a retired navy captain in Salzburg during The Third Reich’s Anschluss. Blood’s real age is unknown to me, but on stage she looks about 16. Her youth and exuberance validate how Maria is able to bond so readily with the love-starved children: practically their peer, she understands and sympathizes with the tribulations of growing up, especially in a household ruled by their widower father, the stern Captain von Trapp. Maria’s youth gives the story a freshness that is lost to the older actresses who typically take on the role (Mary Martin was 46 when she opened the show on Broadway in 1959 and Julie Andrews was 30 when she made the film version in 1964). While Blood capitalizes on her striking voice and effortless charm, she avoids playing Maria as a cutesy scamp, allowing the audience to easily accept her transformation from endearing teenager to von Trapp’s loving wife.

The revival also benefits from the winning performances of seven youngsters who play the von Trapp children. It’s hard to cast the roles with boys and girls who look the proper age and can still sing and act, but all the children look and sound authentic. They take Rockwell’s direction beautifully and their first act “Do-Re-Me” number with Maria is a show-stopping delight. The lads and lasses who play the von Trapp children have two sets of performers alternating in the five younger roles: on opening night they were played by Laura Nelson, Ethan Lupp, Arielle Dayan, Emily Leahy, and Julia Baker. Well done by all!

It is most refreshing to have the role of 16-year old Liesl not played by a female who is in her mid 20’s (at least). Katie Huff looks 16, a lovesick 16 at that, and her credibility in the part is a major contributor to the evening’s success. Zachary Keller plays Friedrich, the second oldest of the captain’s offspring, in all performances.

All the Rodgers and Hammerstein favorites never sounded better, starting with the title song and continuing melodically with “Maria,” “My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi,” “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” “The Lonely Goatherd,” “How Can Love Survive?” and “Edelweiss.” Roberta Duchak is the music director and Ben Johnson the conductor of the excellent pit orchestra, enhanced by Garth Helm’s glorious sound design.

Special mention goes to “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” sung twice by Patti Cohenour, who not only gives a wry performance as the Mother Abbess of the convent, but displays an operatic delivery that is thrilling. Yes, the song is emotionally manipulative, but even the steeliest of audience members will be choked up by this stirring anthem.

Larry Adams explores the humane man beneath the tyrannical exterior of Captain von Trapp, never overdoing the martinet posturing for an easy laugh; his is a magnificent and expansive piece of acting. Windy City veterans John Reeger and Paula Scrofano are in good theatrical health as the captain’s major domo and housekeeper respectively. McKinley Carter is exceptional as Elsa Schraeder, the worldly woman who almost lands the captain as a husband until Maria innocently inserts herself into the picture. Peter Kevoian provides a deft comic touch as Max Detweiler, a music impresario and the captain’s friend. Other supporting performances are superbly handled by an ensemble of mostly familiar faces and local favorites to Chicagoland audiences, including cameos portrayed to perfection by Craig Spidle, David Girolmo, and Catherine Lord.

Kevin Depinet’s sets creatively move the story between the abbey and the von Trapp mansion with the shifting of a few architectural arches and a stairway. A diorama of the Austrian Alps at the rear of the stage lends a subliminal sense of atmosphere to the action. Theresa Ham’s numerous colorful period costumes are beautifully lit by Jesse Klug.

This strudel of a show is not only richer and fuller than any previously seen – the liturgical singing from the nuns at the abbey has never been more exquisite, and the wedding between the captain and Maria, normally a throwaway scene, is both dramatic and touching – but the Drury Lane revival is something of a revelation. Patrons who expect to see a familiar (or overly-familiar) The Sound of Music oozing sentimentality and adorable children will be impressed by Rockwell’s vision and blown away by Blood’s brilliant reinvention of Maria. Who would have thought this warhorse offered so much intelligent emotion and honest warmth?

The Sound of Music
Drury Lane Theatre
scheduled to end on January 8, 2012
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