Thursday, December 15, 2011

'The Sound of Music' is Pitch Perfect at Drury Lane Oakbrook -- Theater Review

Theater Review

The Sound of Music
Drury Lane Oakbrook
Thru January 8, 2012

I realize it would be apples & oranges to say that the production of The Sound of Music at Drury Lane Oakbrook is far superior to any of the three West End musicals I recently saw in London.

For the Rogers & Hammerstein masterpiece is one of the greatest musicals ever created and it's likely that a strong high school rendition would be more satisfying than Ghost: the Musical. And while the other two London shows I caught, Thriller Live and Priscilla Queen of the Desert, featured some fantastic performances, the former was simply a revue with no story and the latter likewise consisted solely of pre-existing music. Both were enjoyable but far from historic.

Mind you, there are many superior musicals playing in London which I have seen previously, there or elsewhere, and my point is not to minimize the quality of the shows and performers working in one of the world's two most prestigious theater districts.

Rather, I mean to herald the heights to which the Drury Lane--and other Chicago area production houses--are now regularly jumping. In a few days I will post my list of the 10 Best Musicals I Saw In 2011 and although my pool includes 18 shows seen in the West End, on Broadway or as a Broadway tour, I am certain that this version of Sound of Music will make the cut, along with a number of other local productions (including Drury Lane's last show, Sweeney Todd).

This is actually the second fantastic production of the fictionalized tale of the real-life von Trapp family I've seen this year. Back in June, I caught one of a 2-show run by Chamber Opera Chicago at the Athanaeum Theater (and wrote about it here). That was the first time I'd ever seen TSOM on-stage and the production was remarkable for how good it was despite the sparsity of performances, highlighted by the efforts of a 30-piece orchestra.

While that rendition was certainly a treat, this one's even better, in terms of overall production values and the performance in the lead role of Maria. Beyond a lovely singing voice, Jennifer Blood imbues the role with a playful exuberance and just the right balance of trepidation and fearlessness as Maria tackles insta-mothering a brood not all that much younger than she is.

Longtime Chicago musical star Larry Adams similarly does a great job of capturing Captain von Trapp's tough and tender sides. While old enough to be Blood's father, he allowed for their romance to come off as believable, and though the Captain doesn't often get to sing, Adams clearly showcased his fine voice on "Edelweiss."

Also demonstrating superlative vocal talents--on a goosebump-raising "Climb Ev'ry Mountain"--was Patti Cohenhour as the Mother Abbess, a role she played in the 1998 Broadway revival. It's obvious the DRO is attracting top notch talent, as as with Sweeney Todd, smaller roles here are filled by local stalwarts with many leading role credits, such as Paula Scrofano, John Reeger, Catherine Lord, David Girolmo and Natalie Ford. I was sorry to miss Peter Kevoian as Max, but on the matinee performance I caught, Craig Spidle quite ably handled the role.

And quite importantly, all of the children were excellent. Although the two boys and some of the younger girls didn't come off as all that individualistic here, Katie Huff did a very nice job as Liesl, Marieclair Popernik made for an adorable Gretl and either Arielle Dayan or Ingrid Lowery was slyly knowing as Brigitta (sorry, I'm not sure which girl performed).

I have now seen four shows directed by Rachel Rockwell and all have been excellent...or even better. Though she may not quite be a household name, as one of Chicago's best musical theater directors, she seems to be elevating herself to a well-deserved "brand name" level, a la Gary Griffin. I wouldn't be shocked if she soon finds herself in demand on Broadway, so all the more reason to take in this terrific production if you can.

Getting a ticket may not be easy as the Drury Lane is rightfully packing them in for this family-friendly show. And without any discount availability on Hottix or Goldstar, you might pay a bit more than at some other area theaters also doing fine work. But the $35-45 you'll spend is not only going to give you all the value of a downtown Chicago show for a fraction of the price, it will also save you from flying to London (or New York) to see musical theatre of the highest quality.

And when it comes to looking back at "My Favorite Things" of 2011, The Sound of Music will long resonate.

(Call the Drury Lane box office at 630-530-0111 to avoid Ticketmaster fees; another reason to love this theater.)

1 comment:

GeoIII said...

If you were at the matinee on December 14, you saw Ingrid Lowery as Brigitta.