Drury Lane triumphs with stellar 'Sound of Music'
The only problem with Jennifer Blood's spirited, star-making turn as Maria in Drury Lane Theatre's superb revival of "The Sound of Music" is coming up with the appropriate superlatives to describe it.
The charismatic actress -- who recalls a young Robin Wright from "The Princess Bride" -- delivers a candid, delightfully impulsive, expertly sung performance as the young postulant who leaves the safety of Austria's Nonnberg Abbey to serve as governess to the children of a widowed naval hero.
Blood's youthful, endlessly endearing Maria captivates from the moment we first encounter her -- bare feet in the air, luxuriating in the beauty of the Alps -- to the moment we bid her farewell as she and her new family flee their beloved homeland over those same mountains.
We witness her transformation (which Blood carefully details) from insecure girl to self-confident woman. And when she is not onstage, we miss her and the accomplished actress who brings Maria so vividly to life.
That was evident opening night from the audience's enthusiastic response to Blood's return to the Von Trapp estate (whose magnificence is reflected in Kevin Depinet's grand sets), at the urging of the Mother Abbess (a bravura turn by Patti Cohenour, reprising the role she played in 1998's Broadway revival), who assures her young charge that loving a man doesn't mean loving God less.
That said, Blood is only one of many reasons to catch director-choreographer Rachel Rockwell's fresh, vigorous, clear-eyed take on a Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein classic that too often suffers from excessive sentiment. Happily, Rockwell eschews schmaltz. The director, whose recent Drury Lane triumphs include "Sweeney Todd" and "Ragtime," reveals simply the show's emotional core: the power of love -- manifested through music -- to inspire, heal and transform.
The droll asides and subtle physical bits (case in point: Maria trapping herself in her bedroom curtains) reveal Rockwell's keen sense of the musical's inherent humor. Yet Rockwell doesn't ignore the growing menace -- reflected in the strategic placement of Nazi soldiers during the Von Trapp family's festival performance -- that is also an intrinsic part of the story.
The early expression of that threat comes in the form of Captain Von Trapp's friends, who urge him to go along to get along. There's wealthy, would-be fiancee Elsa, played with high-gloss savvy by McKinley Carter, whose performance suggests this accommodating Austrian will survive the Anschluss with her fortune intact; and the opportunistic Max Detweiler (a nicely flamboyant Peter Kevoian), who probably won't be as lucky.
The thing that best defines these performances is the fundamental sincerity with which the cast approaches their roles. Take for example Larry Adams, whose rich, nicely muted performance as the brokenhearted Captain Von Trapp is every bit as compelling as Blood's.
Then there's Cohenour, whose stirring "Climb Every Mountain" shakes the rafters, but whose charming duet with Blood on "My Favorite Things" reveals the Mother Abbess as a kindred spirit who probably romped through mountain fields as a girl, just like Maria.
Also deserving mention are Catherine Lord, Ann McMann and Leisa Mather who together with Cohenour make up a most engaging sisters' quartet.
In fact, the pristine vocals of the female chorus are especially heavenly, for which credit rests with the ever-impressive music director Roberta Duchak.
Last but certainly not least, kudos to the wonderful young performers who play the Von Trapp children. Katie Huff, Zachary Keller, Laura Nelson, Ben Parkhill, Arielle Dayan, Emily Leahy and Julia Baker bring to their roles an unforced honesty and absolute sense of glee, most evident in the cleverly choreographed "Do-Re-Mi," one of the many glittering jewels in this priceless production.
"The Sound of Music"★ ★ ★ ★
Location: Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, (630) 530-0111 or drurylaneoakbrook.com
Showtimes: 1:30 p.m. Wednesday; 1:30 and 8 p.m. Thursday; 8:30 p.m. Friday; 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 6 p.m. Sunday through Jan. 8
Running time: About two hours, 30 minutes with intermission
Tickets: $35-$46; lunch and dinner packages range from $49.75 to $68
Parking: Free lot and parking garage adjacent to the theater
Rating: For all ages