Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fine Yet Fleeting Production Renders 'The Sound of Music' Harmionously Sublime -- Theater Review

Theater Review

The Sound of Music
presented by Chamber Opera Chicago
at the Athenaeum Theatre
Run Ended

Until Sunday afternoon, The Sound of Music stood as the most famous--and presumably best--musical I had never seen on stage.

Although I have avidly been attending musicals over the last dozen years--seeing more than 300 different ones, many multiple times--I don't recall ever having an opportunity to see the great Rodgers & Hammerstein musical live and in person. And when I finally did get the opportunity, I literally had only two chances, as Chamber Opera Chicago slated just a pair of performances last weekend at the Athenaeum Theater.

Though I had never seen nor heard of this troupe before, they fortuitously found me with a promotional postcard.

Thanks to Goldstar, a wonderful, free-to-all ticket discount service, I was able to get a ticket for just $13 including convenience fees. And as impressed as I consistently am with the high-quality productions that Evanston's Light Opera Works delivers of shows that typically run for a scant 8 performances and cost me about $40 after discounts, I was even more awed by the experience Chamber Opera Chicago provided, given the even shorter run and lower admission cost. (Although, straight up, LOW's wonderful recent staging of Brigadoon had slightly better production values and performances.)

I have been to the Athenaeum on Southport many times but had never had occasion to sit in its grand mainstage theatre, so I was delighted to see it completely packed for this strong rendition of The Sound of Music. I don't know if they were borrowed or specially built, but the sets were far better than anyone had a right to expect for a 2-show run. The 30-piece Orchestra sounded excellent, as did most of the vast, almost exclusively non-Equity cast in giving a 3+ hour performance packed with superlative songs, such as the title tune, "Maria," "My Favorite Things," "Do-Re-Mi," "So Long, Farewell" and several more. 

Nick Sandys, who I'd seen as Professor Henry Higgins in a Light Opera Works production of My Fair Lady, was very good as Capt. Georg von Trapp, and most of the young stars playing the von Trapp children were also notably good, particularly Sarah Huffman as Liesl. And though she sang only one song, Erika Morrison delivered a phenomenal rendition of "Climb Ev'ry Mountain."

I hate to call Barbara Landis' performance as Maria a weak spot, since as the artistic director of Chamber Opera Chicago she likely put this whole wonderful production together. And she was certainly more than adequate, but just didn't seem perfectly suited to the part.

Perhaps I'm unfairly comparing her with Julie Andrews--who legendarily played the role in the 1965 movie version--but I didn't feel that Landis quite exuded the proper ebullience. And while the seasoned opera singer certainly has an impressive--if rather deep--voice, the operatic tonality of her singing just didn't strike the right note for the role of Maria, a fanciful nun turned governess. 

Although she was much more good than bad, Landis' performance was probably the main thing preventing me from delivering an unprecedented fourth straight @@@@@ review on Seth Saith.

Though it only shared the 1960 Best Musical Tony--with Fiorello--The Sound of Music is clearly one of the best musicals ever written. Perhaps I'll see an even better production some day, but as an initial live experience, this outstanding local staging brought true joy to my eyes, ears and soul.

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