Bowling's production has warmth and charm
When it comes to a successful production of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's "The Sound of Music," casting is key. The role of Maria, the young postulant who leaves an Austrian abbey to serve as governess for the children of a widowed navy hero, requires an actress possessed of a sparkling voice and high spirits. Marriott Theatre has such an actress in Addie Morales, a lovely singer making her Marriott debut in director Nick Bowling's revival, which gets almost everything right.
A winning "Sound of Music" also requires a heavenly nuns choir. The Lincolnshire theater has such a choir and it's led by Daniella Dalli, another Marriott newcomer, who plays The Mother Abbess.
"The Sound of Music" also needs able child actors to portray the von Trapp children. In Campbell Krausen, Brody Tuner, Milla Liss, Archer Geye, Omi Lichtenstein, Olivia O'Sullivan and Reese Bella, Marriott has an adorable, entirely age-appropriate septet whose signature numbers "Do-Re-Mi" and "The Lonely Goatherd" received an enthusiastic response from Wednesday's opening-night audience.
The beloved tuner is a simple, sentimental tale about the importance of faith and the power of music to sustain, inspire and unite. Set in 1938 Austria, where Germany's annexation is imminent, it opens on an ethereal note, with the nuns of Nonnberg Abbey chanting the psalms. That "Preludium" concludes with a glorious "Alleluia" refrain that sends a chill down the spine and sets the stage for Morales' introduction as the winsome Maria, who Dalli's Abbess dispatches to the estate of Captain Georg von Trapp (Erik Hellman) to care for his seven children known for driving away governesses.
Maria wins them over, of course, and falls for von Trapp, whose romance with wealthy Viennese widow Elsa Schraeder (the terrific Heidi Kettenring) the would-be novitiate unwittingly upends.
Bowling's production has warmth and charm. The young actors are endearing, but not overly precocious. At 16, Krausen is the same age as her character Liesl, the eldest von Trapp sibling who's infatuated with telegram messenger Rolf, played by 2021 Northwestern University graduate Emmet Smith. The duo bring an awkward eagerness to their "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" duet that makes the number all the more sweet.
Dalli's exceptional voice and compassion serve well the stirring "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," as well as the always delightful "Maria," whose powerhouse nuns quartet includes Dalli, Susan Moniz, Lydia Burke and Ana Silva. They're supported by Patti Garwood's nine-member orchestra featuring a most welcome string trio comprised of violinist Dave Beldern, cellist Jocelyn Butler-Shoulders and bassist Trevor Jones.
Strong voices and solid acting characterize the supporting performances by Kettenring and Rob Lindley, who plays longtime friend Max, who encourages Georg to cooperate with the Germans. The trio's "No Way to Stop It" is an unsettling ode to collaboration set to an incongruously jolly melody.
As for Morales, she wins us over the moment she opens her mouth to sing the titular song while frolicking in her beloved mountains, which set designer Collette Pollard and projections designer Anthony Churchill evoke through images projected in relief on the walls of the theater...
One final note, Marriott removed the swastika from banners and armbands out of respect to those who lost family members to the Nazis. Gone but not forgotten, the menace the symbol conveys, remains.