Details of the history of the von Trapp family have been altered for the musical. The real Georg von Trappdid live with his family in a villa in a suburb of Salzburg. He wrote to the Nonnberg Abbey in 1926 asking for a nun to help tutor his sick daughter and the Mother Abbess sent Maria (the Captain's wife had died in 1922). The real Maria and Georg married at the Nonnberg Abbey in 1927. Lindsay and Crouse altered the story so that Maria was governess to all of the children, whose names and ages were changed, as was Maria's original surname (the show uses "Rainer" instead of "Kutschera"). The von Trapps spent some years in Austria after Maria and the Captain married and he was offered a commission in Germany's navy. Since Von Trapp opposed the Nazis by that time, the family left Austria after the Anschluss, going by train to Italyand then traveling on to London and the United States. I know this takes the joy and charm out of the story but to make the story more dramatic Lindsay and Crouse had the family, soon after Maria's and the Captain's wedding, escape over the mountains to Switzerland on foot.
The current tour is in fine shape and worth making the visit. Audiences will not be disappointed. The stars of the evening (thank goodness!) are Kerstin Anderson as Maria and Ben Davis as Captain Georg von Trapp: simply stellar actors and singers, both equally talented, who share their emotions with the audience easily and often. The two make the perfect team and possess the very best diction I have heard on a professional stage in a long time. Yes, in that cavernous Cadillac Palace Theatre one could hear every "d" and "t" pronounced. What a pleasure. Ben Davis' Captain was an emotional powerhouse while the 20-year old Kerstin Anderson is an artist far beyond her young years. One bit I found very touching was the moment he turned over his whistle to Maria when he realized he no longer need to run his children and household like a naval battleship. She played her role as a tom boy in her opening scenes and became a young woman during the story. I thought often of what she brought to the stage: a combination of Nancy Dussault and Florence Henderson who performed this role so beautifully. I rate both of these artists among the very the top Marias and Captains I have been lucky enough to see. Ms. Anderson was radiant in an outstanding 1930s wedding costume.
Merwin Ford (Max Detweiler) and Teri Hansen (Elsa Schraeder) were acceptable in these almost comic roles but failed to hit their marks. The major disappointment of the evening was Melody Betts in the role of The Mother Abbess. Audiences wait for the finale of Act I when she sings "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" and (should) bring the house down. Ms. Betts failed miserably. I believe she fashioned her character more on the role she had previously played in Nunsence lacking any grace, authority and command of the character. Her lines were disaster!
The sets were ingenious and even though basic they assisted the flow of the story with high Georgian columns and lace walls. Usually a cumbersome change is moving into the party scene late in Act I but the set designer, Douglas W. Schmidt, achieved an easy and beautiful segue by eliminating a long and usually draw out cross-over. The large staircase in the villa's main reception hall was especially noteworthy and was effectively used during the evening. The audience was never left sitting in a dark house because the settings were constantly changing. The wedding was executed in a charismatic and quickly moving way, too and that glorious – almost baroque music – met the lighting, settings, classic wedding attire and everything just worked. What a thrill to watch and to be a part of! The alpine backdrop was beautifully painted.
Of all design elements I was most impressed with the lighting. Lights were always understatedly changing to fit the story's mood. In a word: outstanding!
The Sound of Music plays through June 19 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre and tickets range from $24 – $115. Tickets are available at all Broadway in Chicago Box Offices and the Broadway in Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775.2000, all Ticketmaster retail locations and online at: www.BroadwayinChicago.com.