Chicago Theatre Review
My Favorite Things
The Sound of Music – Broadway in Chicago
Rodgers & Hammerstein beloved musical about the von Trapp Family once again graces the Chicago stage. It is magnificent. It not only fills the stage with unmatched sights and sounds, it feels real and almost intimate. Beyond the spectacle, this fictionalized biographical story is, by now, quite familiar to audiences due to the popularity of the beloved 1965 film, the recent live television production and countless other regional, touring, school and community productions. But the splendor found in the movie’s sweeping Austrian vistas and Julie Andrews’ dazzling portrayal of Maria von Trapp are fully matched—nay, surpassed—in this unbelievably fresh and wonderful new National Tour.
Tony Award-winning Broadway director Jack O’Brien has staged a production that, as he puts it, “tears off the varnish…making it richer, deeper and more powerful than ever.” This director drives his production with purpose and determination. Every line, every song feels like we’re hearing them for the first time, as if they’re coming from the heart of each character. There’s never a moment when the story isn’t moving forward. Each component of Douglas W. Schmidt’s gorgeous set design seamlessly melds into the next, with everything bathed in Natasha Katz’s often lovely, ethereal illumination. Musical director/orchestra conductor Jay Alger’s talented musicians fill the massive Cadillac Palace auditorium with Richard Rodgers‘ rich, romantic Alpine-flavored score.
A chorus of heavenly-sounding nuns, bathed in light and shadow, breathtakingly open the show, setting the bar high for this top-notch production. This talented chorus of women, led by the miraculous Chicago actress, Melody Betts as the Mother Abbess, raise their angelic voices in a resplendent praise of God that bookends this musical. And if the sheer power and beauty of so many accomplished voices aren’t enough to impress, Jane Greenwood’s gorgeous, colorful palette of 1930’s costumes, will absolutely clinch the deal. Never has this show been more beautiful to the eye and ear; Rodgers & Hammerstein would’ve been proud of what Mr. O’Brien and his artistic team have accomplished. It’s fresh, alive and feels almost like a brand, new show. As O’Brien says, this “is no longer your mother’s familiar ‘Sound of Music.’”
As Maria, young new discovery Kerstin Anderson brings youth, energy and a bracingly fresh originality to the role. To call this young actress talented is an understatement. She’s a revelation. Possessing a clear, crisp singing voice, this actress also has a sparkling, endearing personality and so much chemistry with both the Captain and the seven von Trapp children. Ms. Anderson makes us we feel as if we’re meeting this character for the very first time. Beginning her performance on the mountain path, singing the lovely title song with heartfelt clarity and passion, the actress seems to be singing from the heart, formulating each lyric herself. When Ms. Anderson reaches the office of the Mother Abbess (brilliant local actress Melody Betts, in full, rich voice), it’s obvious that she feels very comfortable with her spiritual mentor. Their lovely duet of “My Favorite Things” is natural and lighthearted, providing additional dimension to both characters. Once the actress finds herself in the company of the seven adorable children entrusted to her care, Ms. Anderson’s Maria has become a believable young woman, filled with insecurities, a love of life and a reverence for both God and music. She also possesses a great sense of fun and humor, to boot. By the time the audience witnesses her marrying Captain von Trapp, standing by her family’s side in the musical festival and finally “Climb Every Mountain” to escape the Nazis, Kerstin Anderson has made Maria her very own.
As Captain von Trapp, handsome, charming Broadway veteran Ben Davis is one of the finest leading men to ever play this role. As a man who, upon the death of his wife, has built a wall around himself, he’s prevented happiness, music and love from entering his life. His children have even become little robots who answer to a whistle. But, under Maria’s magical influence, the Captain turns into a far more likable, warmer character. By the second act, he’s a loving man, a caring father, an empathetic head of the household and a conscientious leader. Of course, this is the journey his character must take, and Mr. Davis perfectly meets the demands of the role. This actor brings class and stature to Captain von Trapp, gradually becoming more humane as Maria fills the his life with love and music.
The seven von Trapp children are all wonderfully cast. Paige Silvester is a lovely, believable young Liesl, from “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” (beautifully sung and danced with handsome Dan Tracy as Rolf, thankfully avoiding playing the angry young man found in most portrayals) to her budding trust in and love for Maria. Jeremy Michael Lanuti displays an accomplished soprano voice as Frederich and Austin Levine makes Kurt a lovable, realistic little boy. Ashley Brooke’s bookish Louisa, Iris Davies’ candid, unabashed Brigitta, Kyla Carter’s charming little Marta and Audrey Bennett’s sweet baby Gretl round out this artistic family of juvenile stars. Whether marching around the house singing and signing the infectious “Do Re Mi” or bouncing on Maria’s bed while belting out “The Lonely Goatherd” to mask a loud, frightening thunderstorm, these children are the obvious stars of this production.
Opera and musical theatre veteran Teri Hansen brings cool class and a lovely soprano to Baroness Elsa Schraeder. She’s paired with caustically sophisticated funny man (and magnificently accomplished vocalist) Merwin Foard as Max Detweiler. Darren Matthias and, especially, Donna Garner turn in fine, layered performances as the Captain’s devoted house staff, Franz and Frau Schmidt. In addition, Broadway’s Julia Osborne and Elisabeth Evans are excellent as Sisters Margaretta and Sophia, while Broadway character actress Carey Rebecca Brown brings bite and humor to feisty Sister Berthe.
Jack O’Brien has directed this production with warmth and wonder, while infusing it with a freshness. It’s full of spectacle and beauty, realistic characterizations and gorgeous music. An excellent first musical experience for young audiences, his production will impress patrons with its abundance of talent and a certain unbelievable intimacy, despite the majesty of its size and scope. His production also has a real feeling of family and faith. Audiences should climb every mountain standing in their way to see this production of a true American classic of the musical stage. There may never be another like it.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented June 7-19 by Broadway in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, Chicago.
Tickets are available at all Broadway in Chicago box offices, at all Ticketmaster locations, by calling the Chicago Ticket Line at 800-775-2000 or by going to www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com