Eighteen months after Richard Chamberlain "Edelweiss'ed" his way across the Lyric Opera House stage, "The Sound of Music" is back in town, but this time the most dramatic element of the production is happening offstage.
Now it's "The Brady Bunch's" Barry Williams who gets top billing as Captain von Trapp, and Williams' decision to tear up his union card to headline a non-union show has drawn pickets from Actors' Equity on opening nights across the country.
At the Lyric, the opening-night protest was low-key, even affable, with the pickets singing parodies of the show's songs and of "The Brady Bunch" theme song. It's telling that the protesters were the evening's most distinguishing feature.
With its syrupy score and reliance on a bevy of cute little von Trapps, "The Sound of Music" has never been my choice as Rodgers and Hammerstein's finest effort. The show's biggest problem is that, though the book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse is set against the backdrop of the Nazi takeover of Austria, the Nazi threat rarely seems real. The production that played here last season went a long way toward restoring the balance. Now, however, with Williams' bland acting setting the tone, the show has slipped back into the misty world of make-believe.
Admittedly, Williams sings quite nicely; his vocal quality has a pleasant mellow tone. But in the early going, he's not convincing as either a stern taskmaster or a brooding widower, and later on, there's no chemistry between him and Maria, the postulant (or apprentice nun) who serves as governess for his seven children.
Maria, the show's actual lead role, is played here by Jennifer Avery. Perhaps to accentuate the eventual contrast, the actress overdoes Maria's youthful unbridled brashness in the early going (even her singing has a brash, blaring quality); she's on firmer footing by the time Maria matures.
This production uses the same lovely snow-globe-inspired sets and folksy costumes as last season's, but in re-creating the direction and choreography of the 1998 Broadway revival, director Brian Hill and choreographer Joe Bowerman have lost much of the edge.
The children - especially AJ Luca as bookish Brigitta - are so charming that the show takes a decided downturn whenever they're offstage, particularly in the supposedly comic scenes between Brittany Pixton as Captain von Trapp's snooty fiancee and Joe Dodd as an Austrian minister of culture. Emily K. Herring lends a stirring operatic touch to the role of the Mother Abbess, whether leading a small choir of nuns or soloing in "Climb Ev'ry Mountain."
Knocking a show as beloved as "The Sound of Music" is a little like knocking motherhood and apple pie. And in truth, besides the anti-union flap, there's nothing offensive about this production.
But there's nothing inspirational about it, either. And for a musical about following your heart and ideals, that's pretty disappointing.
`The Sound of Music'
Where: Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave.
When: 8 p.m. today through Saturday; 7:30 p.m. Sunday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday