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Addie Morales enlivens the Lincolnshire hills with a magnificent ‘Sound of Music’

The common question asked by Nonnberg Abbey nuns and casting directors alike when it comes to The Sound of Music — How do you solve a problem like Maria?

This reviewer is thrilled to report that the Nick Bowling-directed production has nary a problem with this possible conundrum. Because Addie Morales, making her Marriott Theatre debut as audiences’ first post-COVID Maria Rainer, is all that and a yodel-lay-hee-ho!

This is the same delightful, young actor, with TCU and Baldwin Wallace musical theatre degrees, who stepped in as Eva Peron at Drury Lane this winter when Michelle Aravena left for Broadway’s Beetlejuice. In this Sound of Music she delivers to audiences the most authentically signature Maria to grace a Chicagoland stage since Jennifer Blood took on the role in the Rachel Rockwell-directed production at Drury Lane more than a decade ago. It almost feels as though Bowling channels some of the late Rockwell’s vision and wisdom.

When the audience first glimpses this Maria, it’s not in the oft-copied head-back, arms flailing, ready-to-belt position. Instead, mirroring the memory of a decade past, Morales’ fresh-scrubbed wanna-be nun is lying on the ground, socks off, legs in the air, breathing, feeling and owning the mountain near Nonnberg Abbey like the late teen she portrays. Appropriately, she’s more Olivia Rodrigo than Julie Andrews.

This innocent characterization sets up absolutely endearing “Do-Rei-Mi” and “Lonely Goatherd” scenes that illustrate Maria’s bonding with the hopelessly adorable Von Trapp children played by Campbell Krausen, Brody Tyner, Milla Liss, Archer Geye, Omi Lichtenstein, Olivia O’Sullivan and Reese Bella. These scenes are perfectly punctuated later in the first act with Maria’s scolding of Captain Georg Von Trapp (Erik Hellman) for failing to know his own children, which simultaneously sells the audience fully on her love for the Von Trapp children as well as their father. That said, this reviewer has to wonder if importing the Maria/Georg duet “Something Good,” written for the 1965 movie to replace the Broadway production’s “An Ordinary Couple,” would enhance the spark Hellman needs to more enthusiastically show toward Morales.

True to the core of the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway winner of eight Tony Awards, the Marriott production is memorable for its relaxed reality. It’s particularly noticeable in Morales’ eminently approachable Maria, the postulant-turned-nanny who ultimately captivates a captain, flees the Nazis then, presumably, lives happily ever after. If there’s a sacrifice in this characterization, it’s the omission of the empowering, “I Have Confidence,” written for the movie and included in some stage renditions. But it’s a worthwhile trade-off to keep the action moving swiftly from the hills being alive until the doggone mountain is climbed and the family flee from the Nazis. (Anyone in need of a plot summary of all that goes on in between or wants to study production information from 1959 onward may find it all here.)

As requisite for this title, there are memorable vocals. Daniella Dalli, reprising the role of Mother Abess she played on national tour, twice belts out magnificent renditions of “Climb Ev'ry Mountain.” But she’s certainly not the only magnificently singing nun in this production. Dalli is joined by Susan Moniz as Sister Berthe, Lydia Burke as Sister Margaretta, Ana Silva as Sister Sophia who, along with several ensemble members, form the most gorgeous nun chorus this side of Holy Name Cathedral. Indeed, listening to their “Maria,” “Preludium,” “Godeamus Domino,” and “Confitemini Domino” could become habit forming. The overall magnificent vocals in this production are buoyed by Marriott’s commitment to a full casting of more than 30 actors in a staging that shows them off well.

Additionally deserving plaudits are Chicagoland stage favorites Heidi Ketterring and Rob Lindley. They take on roles of the goldigging Baroness Elsa Schraeder and bougie-wanna-be Max Detweiler, painting just the right comedic touches while and carefully not overdoing it against the backdrop of Nazi occupation.

For all its fine touches, what this production does not do is just as important. And that’s recreate the wheel. Lovely surrounding sets and lighting enhance the minimalist and representational on-stage elements, necessary for Marriott’s in-the-round setup. Straightforward orchestrations, truth to the script…indeed, all generations will know this Sound of Music. Kudos in particular to the set design by Collette Pollard, lighting design by Jesse Klug, projection media design by Anthony Churchill and to all the backstage pros who make the onstage work appear effortless.

There are numerous reasons to buy tickets and see this wonderfully fresh take on a beloved, classic musical one of which is because its young star just might win a Jeff or Tony one day. Yodel-lay-hee-ho!

The Sound of Music runs through June 5th at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Dr. Lincolnshire. For tickets or more information, please click here.