Lyric takes no chances with ‘The Sound of Music’ – Chicago Sun-Times

By HEDY WEISS
Theater Critic

April 27, 2014 7:01PM

CaptavTrapp (Billy Zane) performs “Edelweiss” surrounded by his family. L R: Mari(Jenn Gambatese) Mart(Kylee Hennes) Gretl (Nicole Scimeca) Friedrich (Brady

Captain von Trapp (Billy Zane) performs “Edelweiss,” surrounded by his family. L to R: Maria (Jenn Gambatese), Marta (Kylee Hennes), Gretl (Nicole Scimeca), Friedrich (Brady Tutton), Liesl (Betsy Farrar), Brigitta (Isabelle Roberts), Louisa (Julia Schweizer), and Kurt (Michael Harp) in “The Sound of Music” at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. | Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times

‘THE SOUND

OF MUSIC’

Recommended

When: Through May 25

Where: Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker

Tickets : $29-$179

Info: (312) 827-5600; www.lyricopera.org/soundofmusic

Run time: 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission

WATCH: ‘The Sound of Music’ director discusses the production with Hedy Weiss

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Updated: April 27, 2014 8:11PM

No doubt one crucial goal of the Lyric Opera’s production of “The Sound of Music” is to get the grade school set into the theater’s seats and, in the process, hook these young audiences on a grand-scale spectacle whose story is readily familiar from multiple video viewings. The hope (as it is with every ballet company’s “Nutcracker”) is that this will help build the audience of the future. Who would argue with that? And it must be said that during the course of the Sunday matinee’s solid two hours and 40 minutes of running time, only one tearful tot (out of an audience of many very young children) had to be carried into the lobby.

Lavish this production of one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most beloved Broadway musicals most certainly is, with a chorus of nuns with operatic voices that easily fill the grand Alpine abbey where the high-spirited Maria (Jenn Gambatese) begins to realize she is not really cut out for a convent life. An orchestra of 37 musicians (conducted by Rob Fisher) lifts their sound even further. And Michael Yeargan’s sets beautifully capture everything from the stained glass windows of a massive cathedral to the monied grandeur of an Austrian villa embraced by the mountains.

But while director Marc Bruni’s vision of the show is warm and polished, it is decidedly by-the-book, and far too safe. There is not a single surprise in it — nothing to compare to the true thrill generated by director Rachel Rockwell when she grabbed hold of this musical several years ago at the Drury Lane Theatre.

Gambatese, whose voice is velvety and natural, begins a bit stiffly, with all the classic Julie Andrews gestures. But once she arrives at the von Trapp household to serve as the best governess since Mary Poppins, she blossoms. So do the seven von Trapp children, whose mother has died and whose father, the fervent Austrian nationalist and heroic Captain von Trapp (Billy Zane), treats them like little cadets. They begin to sing and ride bicycles (a nice addition), and the piercingly insightful Brigitta (Isabelle Roberts, a gifted little actress) and Gretl (tiny, adorable, full-voiced Nicole Scimeta) even win your heart.

Maria, of course, wins von Trapp’s heart, although aside from an exquisite dance sequence (choreographed by Denis Jones), the two don’t generate much heat. Zane bears a striking resemblance to Marlon Brando, but he seems rather lost here — wooden in some scenes, overly casual in others, and with not much of a voice.

Christine Brewer easily commands the stage with both her pipes and her presence as the wise Mother Abbess who senses Maria’s worldly temperament. Elizabeth Futral is all chilly elegance and self-satisfaction as Elsa Schraeder, the wealthy Viennese widow who won’t risk her fortune to marry von Trapp after he refuses to kowtow to the German Nazis. And Edward Hibbert brings snap to the role of impresario Max Detweiler, the opportunist perfectly content to go along with whatever political regime will assure his well-being. But the truth is, if you want politics with your musical you would do far better seeing “Cabaret.” And the question remains: Aside from scale, what does the Lyric really add to Broadway?

Email: hweiss@suntimes.com

Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic

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