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Oakbrook Terrace alive with the glorious ‘Sound of Music’

'The Sound Music' Drury Lane Oak Brook Terrace. Jennifer Blood stars as Maria

"The Sound of Music" at Drury Lane Oak Brook Terrace. Jennifer Blood stars as Maria

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◆ Through Jan. 8

◆ Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre, 100 Drury Ln., Oakbrook Terrace

◆ $35-$46

◆ (630) 530-0111;

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Updated: January 23, 2012 4:10AM

How do you devise an entirely new take on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music” without altering a single word or note? How do you turn a musical that has become the stuff of parodies, sing-alongs and sclerotic productions into one of the most theatrically imaginative, emotionally enthralling, politically and romantically sophisticated shows now on any stage east or west of Broadway?

To see just how it can be done head off to the Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre, where director-choreographer Rachel Rockwell has worked her latest miracle. And it is by no measure a small one. After all, what can possibly be done to reinvent such songs as “Do-Re-Mi,” “The Lonely Goatherd,” “Sixteen Going On Seventeen,” or even the anthemic “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” and to endow them with charm, while at the same time removing every hint of saccharine or schmaltz? How do you find the hidden edginess in every line of dialogue and every well-known lyric in this show?

To begin with, Rockwell has hired Jennifer Blood to play Maria. A young actress of extraordinarily subtle dramatic skills, Blood arrives here with a list of Off Broadway credits, a lovely, naturally expressive face, an easily charismatic presence, and a gift for exquisitely detailed character work (and transformation) that should be experienced rather than described. She is pure magic in this role, with a truly uncanny ability to touch the heart through absolute honesty and the most wonderfully easeful technique. You understand immediately why not only Captain Von Trapp (the carefully understated Larry Adams) falls in love with her, but why his seven rigidly disciplined children instantly adore her.

Another Rockwell casting coup is Patti Cohenour who brings to the Mother Abbess, a role she played more than a decade ago on Broadway, a true humanity and believability. Beyond her soaring, breathtakingly beautiful voice, Cohenour winningly suggests just how much she shares Maria’s hunger for life, love and joy, and this heightens the intensity (and humor) in every scene between the two women.

The children, who have huge demands made on them, also have been ideally chosen. They include: A spirited Katie Huff as Liesl, who obviously bonds with Maria as if she were an older sister; Arielle Dayan, as the bluntly insightful Brigitta; Julia Baker as the youngest, Gretl; and Emily Leahy, Laura Nelson, Zachary Keller and BenParkhill. Watch Rockwell’s detailed choreography for each of them in her ingenious take on “Do-Re-Mi” and you will see how she defines character with every gesture.

Roberta Duchak’s sublime musical direction does much the same thing. Just listen to “Maria,” and hear how deftly the characters of the Abbess and three nuns (so engagingly played by Catherine Lord, Ann McMann and Leisa Mather) are defined by their precise vocal intonation. Conductor Ben Johnson and his orchestra also add to the perfection throughout.

And all this is just “the very beginning.” McKinley Carter is all hard-edged Austrian crystal as the widowed Von Trapp’s wealthyfiancee, and she makes the message in the rarely remembered song “No Way to Stop It” blisteringly clear for the first time. Peter Kevoian,who nails every cynical and comic line, is priceless as Max, the musical producer and cafe society opportunist who loves hobnobbing with the rich. And John Reeger and Paula Scrofano bring starch to their work as the obedient household staff.

Rockwell’s directorial touches are further complemented by her close attention to the show’s politics. She makes it clear that Von Trapp was more Austrian nationalist than anti-fascist. And by planting Nazi officers in the aisles at a crucial moment she captures the sinister effect of that regime to chilling effect.

Kevin Depinet’s magnificent sets — fit for an opera house, let alone Broadway — suggest that no expense is being spared these days at Drury Lane, even if tickets are barely more costly than those for an Off Loop show. Yes, the hills are very much alive in Oakbrook now. At moments it even seems as if the Alps have risen above the prairie.

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