Our coterie of theatergoers—6 of us, 3 cousins and their wives—had been waiting for this moment for over six months. When the curtain opened at the Civic Opera House at the Wednesday matinee, the moment finally arrived. We were swiftly transported to an abbey near the Austrian Alps. Where the nuns were chanting a morning prayer. The magic of “The Sound of Music” would enthrall us for three straight hours.
My cousin Glenn and his wife Marti, his cousin Gary and his wife Teri, my wife and I have been following this script for the last 3 years. Beginning with Lyric Opera’s “Show Boat” by Jerome Kern, followed by its splendid production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma” last season and now “The Sound of Music”.
I remember in another of their musicals, Hammerstein used the adjective ‘starry-eyed’. No better word can describe my reaction to the performance we were privileged to enjoy. It exceeded all of our expectations, as lofty as they were considering the cachet of the Lyric Opera’s reputation for excellence.
My wife and I had seen “The Sound of Music” at the Drury Lane Theater in Oak Brook and it was superb. Matter of fact, Cory Goodrich who plays Sister Margaretta in this Lyric version sang a glorious Maria at the Drury Lane.
That being said, the Lyric with the resources at its command and the cast it has ensembled and the geniuses behind its production has given us a “Sound of Music” for the ages. And for many at Wednesday’s matinee, that would be the advanced ages.
After the opening ‘Praeludium’ comes the enchanting eponymic number that Julie Andrews opens the movie version with. The Alpine set designed by Michael Yeargan is unbelievably evocative. Jenn Gambatese (Maria), a mere physical wisp, bursts into view, and the hills come alive with the sound of the beautiful music of her voice.
Gambatese is the centerpiece of the show, but she’s supported by so many other stellar performers. Christine Brewer as the Mother Abbess shows deft versatility. Her drolly charming duet with Gambatese in Act One, “My Favorite Things”, may be my favorite of all. Later Brewer gives a powerful uplifting rendition of “Climb Every Mountain” before the intermission. Then she reprises it at the denouement of the story. What a grand send-off for all!
The children are engagingly pert, perky, and perfectly cast. Especially Betsy Farrar as Liesl. Vocally bewitching, she does a tenderly coming-of-age pas de deux with Zach Sorrow (Rolf Gruber). One of Choreographer Denis Jones’ inventive pieces.
Elizabeth Futral is on key as the temporizing Elsa Schraeder, giving her songs the right touch of bittersweetness. Edward Hibbert plays Max Detweiler to the hilt: smooth, sophisticated, and ironically cynical. Kind of like Claude Rains’s Captain Renault in “Casablanca”.
If I had one of those alphorns that I once saw at the Bier Stube in Frankfort, Illinois, I would sound a chorus of triumphant notes for Rob Fisher who conducted the 37-piece Lyric orchestra. His overture at the start of Act II was a marvelous arrangement! And for director Marc Bruni who deftly wove so many fresh ideas into the well-worn fabric of the Rogers and Hammerstein classic.
A special commendatory toot goes to Michael Yeargan for his magnificent sets. The von Trapp villa is here recreated to the smallest detail: its exterior with the imposing gate; its impressive parlor and staircase; its inviting terrace with the Alpine backdrop; its garden from which the von Trapps escape into the moonlit hills.
Last but not least, Billy Zane. I’ve read a review that seems to damn him with faint praise. I beg to differ. Besides his star power, he brings to the role of the Captain a certain gravitas and Old World dignity. A reserve and sense of honor totally in character. And yet a vulnerability too. His dance with Maria is a pivotal moment in the play. Zane delicately conveys the Captain’s transformation from proprietary master of the house into a man in love. And Zane does an admirable job of singing too. His ‘Edelweiss’ is particularly affectiing.
All in all, the Lyric’s “The Sound of Music” is an exceptional production. Go see it! You may never see its equal again.