The hills could be more lively in this ponderous touring edition of the well-loved musical.
Not based on an actual Broadway production—astonishingly, The Sound of Music has only appeared on Broadway twice, in the 1959 original production and a 1998 revival—this staging of the Rodgers & Hammerstein chestnut was created for the road, touring in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the film version. So it must be said, then, that the painted backdrops of Douglas W. Schmidt’s scenic design don’t quite live up to the Technicolor splendor of Julie Andrews’s Alps. Physically, Tony winner Jack O’Brien’s production—all flat panels and scrims, sparsely furnished and scaled for shallow stages—looks like it was built to tour (Jane Greenwood’s clever costumes are the exception).
It has its pleasures, though, among them newcomer Kerstin Anderson, plucked out of undergrad to play an extra-plucky Maria. Her characterization of a gawky, cheeky, goofball governess, taking conspiratorial tones with the Von Trapp children and surprised by her feelings for their father, is perhaps a touch modern—it’s the kind of performance that the portmanteau “adorkable” was made for—but it’s winning nonetheless. She’s got a strong match in Ben Davis’s Captain Von Trapp, a principled man who rediscovers playfulness by Maria’s example. Davis is perhaps the one element in this production that exceeds Chicago’s most recent look at the show, with Billy Zane’s stiff turn in Lyric Opera’s 2004 outing.
Still, elsewhere in the evening there’s more air than in all the Austrian hills. Melody Betts’s Mother Abbess particularly indulges in a few too many beats in her every leisurely scene. That makes regaining momentum after the opening sequence in the abbey, well, an uphill climb.
Cadillac Palace Theatre. Music by Richard Rodgers. Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Directed by Jack O’Brien. With Kerstin Anderson, Ben Davis. Running time: 2hrs 50mins; one intermission.