Theater Review: Don’t Expect Julie Andrews’ Sugary Sweetness In Lyric Stage’s The Sound of Music

The first thing most people should keep in mind when viewing The Sound of Music onstage is that it differs slightly from its iconic film counterpart. Gone are the tunes “I Have Confidence” and “Something Good,” which were written especially for the movie. In their place are three other songs that were dropped for filming, a detail which led most of the Lyric Stage audience seated around me to question how well they really knew their favorite musical.

Rest easy: The hills are still alive and the roses still have raindrops. The inspired-by-a-true-story tale of a wayward postulant who becomes a governess and then a baroness before dramatically escaping the Nazis with her new family is still intact. But the second thing that people should keep in mind is that Julie Andrews is virtually impossible to replicate. Lyric’s Maria, Bri Sudia, smartly doesn’t even try. Her take is more awkward, ungainly tomboy, a choice that initially feels odd but succeeds more and more as the show progresses.

It’s Sudia’s decidedly un-sugary portrayal that helps keep Cheryl Denson’s production from simply dissolving. With seven impossibly cute Von Trapp children driving a good portion of the scenes, it’s refreshing to balance them with a Maria who delivers comments with a bit of snark and smart-aleck sass. My only quibble with this Maria comes not from Sudia’s performance but from her dowdy costumes—once she’s married to the dashing Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Carl), Jeffrey Meek outfits Maria like a drab dowager, a step down even from her earlier ugly hand-me-downs. It almost makes you long for the curtain dress.

Elsewhere, though, Meek’s costumes conjure up glamorous country couture in line with James Fouchard’s grand sets (Janelle Lutz as Elsa looks especially enchanting). The opening tableau, with its flickering candles and gilded framework of Nonnberg Abbey, is reverently lit by Julie N. Simmons. There’s an airy, fresh feel about the stage—you can almost breathe the bracing air of the Swiss Alps.

The chorus of nuns, led by Jodi C. Wright as Mother Abbess, contributes much to the overall atmosphere. Four of their seven songs are hauntingly lovely hymns, and it’s this forgotten portion of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s score that resonates the most. Coming in a close second is Carl’s rendition of “Edelweiss,” the last song that Rodgers and Hammerstein would write together before Hammerstein succumbed to cancer a few months later.

In the film, the Captain first sings this song tenderly to his children, rediscovering his love for them. Onstage, we don’t hear the classic song until the show is nearly over. It comes when the family is onstage at the music festival, knowing they must escape directly after their performance and leave their beloved Salzburg behind, possibly forever. Captain Von Trapp strums his guitar and tears up, prompting Maria to chime in and rescue the song. With the Nazi banner hanging boldly above them, it’s a defiant and yet profoundly sad picture. Moments like this help the stage version hold it own.

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