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Lyric Opera's 'The Sound of Music' brings large scale production to Chicago

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The Sound of Music

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Chicago's Lyric Opera began its run of "The Sound of Music" April 25, and Sunday's performance brought a full house of cross-generational audience members. The classic story is one that is known the world over and with a following like that (largely due to the 1965 film), there is a lot of pressure to deliver an impressive show while staying true to the story millions know and love. In spite of certain elements falling flat, Lyric Opera's production did not fail to impressive the audience from young to old. "The Sound of Music" runs now through May 25.

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The Austrian countryside surrounding the abbey and Von Trapp estate is, in a sense, its own character both in the film and stage production of "The Sound of Music", and it is great to see these settings represented in such an expansive way. The set design for the three locales create such dimension and detail to the scenes that the audience is immersed into the home or hills of Austria. The set alone is reason enough to attend this production.

This being said, there are some weak links in the production. Although Jenn Gambatese portrays Maria with all the spirit and optimism one would hope for in the character, she delivers the opening iconic song "The Sound of Music", with minimal enthusiasm. Her crystal clear, powerful voice is undeniable, and she later shows that she is capable of an enthusiastic delivery as seen in nearly all of her other songs. Seeing this spirit would be beneficial in opening the show and welcoming the audience into the production and her character.

Billy Zane's portrayal of Captain von Trapp is extra incentive to see the show for some, and he impresses as he portrays the character with a charm, presence, and appearance much like that of a young Marlon Brando. And while he is undeniably a talented actor on stage and screen, his vocal performance would benefit from more projection and training. Zane has a deep, smooth speaking and singing voice that is a rare find, but his duets with musical theater veteran Jenn Gambatese leave him wanting in comparison. However, while performing solos ("Edelweiss", for instance), he impresses in both delivery and range as he hits higher notes in full-bodied voice, without resorting to falsetto.

The entire cast suit their roles well, but there are two unexpected performers that steal the show. While Zane and Gambatese are not to be discredited for their performances in the lead roles, Christine Brewer's (Mother Abbess) powerhouse voice and Nicole Scimeca's (Gretl) unbearable cuteness make them two minor characters to linger in the audience's mind. Six-year-old Nicole Scimeca portrays the youngest von Trapp child, Gretl, and elicits more "Awws" and giggles than one could imagine possible from a production set in Nazi-occupied Austria.

From a very small voice to a very big one, Christine Brewer leaves audience members with goosebumps. The show's vocal arrangements, choreography, and staging bring out the best in classic songs, from the inclusion of bicycles in "Do Re Mi" to a makeshift stage in "The Lonely Goatherd" to flirtatious adolescence in "Sixteen Going on Seventeen." Christine Brewer is all a scene needs as she captivates the audience with her breathtaking range and vibrato during songs like "Climb Ev'ry Mountain." The final scene, which is moving on its own, brings chills to the viewer as her voice fills the large theater, demanding attention.

Diehard fans of the 1965 film should not expect an exact replica of their beloved movie, as some songs are moved to different scenes and musical numbers are added to emphasize the political aspect of the story. However, much of the theatrical production is very similar to the film and the additional numbers only make the drama and conclusion of the story more powerful.

"The Sound of Music" runs at Chicago Lyric Opera now through May 25. Tickets are available online.

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