Stellar singers, superb orchestra make Paramount's 'Sound of Music' an ideal alternative this holiday season
"The Sound of Music" -- ★ ★ ★ ★
When it came to programming its 2022 season, Paramount Theatre opted against a holiday show. Instead, the Aurora theater scheduled Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's beloved "The Sound of Music."
Turns out counterprogramming was a savvy move. One of the few, non-holiday offerings in the suburbs right now, director/choreographer Amber Mak's emotional, enthusiastic revival was extended before previews began.
Powered by splendid singer/actor and conductor Kory Danielson's resounding 16-member orchestra (a rare gift for audiences), Paramount's production is emotionally satisfying and beautifully sung.
That's evident in the opening notes of the a cappella "Preludium." Sung by the nuns' chorus, it begins with a haunting, monophonic "Dixit Dominus" that sends a shiver down the spine in the best possible way. The mood lightens as the choir segues into a delicate hymn before concluding with the exultant "Alleluia," which hints at the equally exquisite singing to come.
Paramount newcomer Alicia Kaori, an engaging singer/actress with a glorious voice, is ideal as the postulant Maria, who in the months leading up to the Anschluss, is enlisted as governess for the children of a widowed Austrian naval captain. Kaori's Maria is a perceptive and plucky woman. While she is maturing, she has not shed her girlishness entirely, a point made clear in "The Lonely Goatherd." I cannot recall a jollier version of this novelty tune notable for its yodeling, which Kaori executes flawlessly.
Chicago-area favorite Susan Moniz makes her Paramount debut as The Mother Abbess, who suspects Maria's future lies outside the abbey's walls. Vocally, Moniz soars (her "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" rattles the rafters). Emotionally, she remains grounded, an accessible kindred spirit of sorts to Maria as evidenced by their charming "My Favorite Things" duet.
The talented young actors who play the von Trapp children are led by 16-year-old Julia Aragon, who plays oldest daughter Liesl. The youngsters share the roles. The Saturday matinee I attended featured Ava Barabasz (Gretl), Milla Liss (Brigitta), Savannah Lumar (Marta), Maddie Morgan (Louisa), Ezekiel Ruiz (Kurt) and Kirin Pauline (Friedrich).
Christopher Kale Jones, a fine singer and former "Jersey Boy," plays patriarch Georg von Trapp. Jones' reserved performance suggests a man unable to shake the dull ache of grief who distances himself from his children and quits music. (The closest he comes is the boatswain's whistle used to summon his children and servants, a poor substitute).
Resignation, not passion, fuels his seemingly ambivalent courtship of Elsa Schraeder (Emilie Lynn), a socialite who puts her self-interest above her country's welfare. Equally opportunistic is Max Detweiler (Stephen Schellhardt), a longtime friend who urges Georg to compromise with the Nazis in "No Way to Stop It," a number particularly resonant in light of recent events.
Mak acknowledged as much in her director's note, writing "the story feels as contemporary and poignant as ever in our current world."
In the wake of voter disenfranchisement, election denial and attempted insurrection, Georg's rejection of authoritarianism -- echoed in the quietly defiant "Edelweiss" -- reflects true patriotism.
Yet, "The Sound of Music" remains at heart a testament to the power of love that concludes with a profoundly moving expression of faith.
In the penultimate scene, The Mother Abbess quotes from Psalm 121: "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help."
Simple words, plainly spoken, bear repeating.
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Location: Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, (630) 896-6666, paramountaurora.com
Showtimes: 1:30 and 7 p.m. Wednesday; 7 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday through Jan. 14. Also 1:30 p.m. Dec. 23, 29 and Jan. 5. No shows Dec. 24 and 25. No 7 p.m. show Jan. 12
Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes with intermission
Parking: Limited street parking, paid lots nearby
Rating: For most audiences, some Nazi images may be unsettling to sensitive viewers
COVID-19 precautions: Masks encouraged