BEVERLY — Forget your overfamiliarity with Julie Andrews and the film version of “The Sound of Music.” The North Shore Music Theatre’s ravishing production serves as an eloquent reminder of why this musical is a classic.
Directed and choreographed by James Brennan, it unfolds on the stage like a flower, revealing first the music, then charming characters and a compelling story line. It opens with Boston’s own Leigh Barrett, in the haunting “Preludium,” introducing us to the nuns of Nonnberg Abbey. The glorious harmonies of this group (including Boston favorites Maureen Brennan, Cheryl McMahon, Dawn Tucker, and Ellen Peterson) immediately set the bar very high. Under musical director Dale Rieling, their sound is magnificent — goose-bump-inducing.
After the reverential opening, it’s obvious that our irrepressible heroine, Maria (a winsome Lisa O’Hare), doesn’t belong in the convent. O’Hare has a glorious soprano that seems to emerge effortlessly out of her character, and she is charming with the von Trapp children she’s sent to govern.
O’Hare meets her match in David Andrew Macdonald’s Captain Georg von Trapp, the widower and former navy commander who subjects his children to military-style discipline. Macdonald has a light, unadorned singing voice; his real strength is in his ability to let the audience witness the melting of his icy heart.
Maria, falling in love with Georg, runs back to the convent, only to return to him and the children. Watching the buttoned-down captain bound into the room when he learns she’s back is surprisingly touching, as is “Something Good,” the duet that follows.
As the Mother Abbess, Suzanne Ishee builds “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” to such a crescendo that it left Wednesday night’s audience gasping. James Beaman, as friend and festival producer Max, and Jacquelynne Fontaine, as the captain’s girlfriend Elsa, add complexity to the plot, and insight into the political context of the Nazi-era setting with “No Way to Stop It.” Andrew Tighe as Rolf and Deidre Haren as Liesl von Trapp also make a winning pair of teenagers on the brink of love, singing “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.”
As the seven von Trapp children, Haren and the others always underplay their roles, making it easy to keep them straight as they transform from bratty marching soldiers to singing siblings. Brennan also manages to create choreography for “So Long, Farewell” that turns the number into a clever comment on machinery gears, playfully moving each child off the stage.
Speaking of which: This show, with its multiple locations, might not seem a natural fit for North Shore Music Theatre’s arena stage, but Brennan and scenic designer Jeff Modereger make it work beautifully. The set elegantly suggests, rather than spells out, where the characters are — in the convent, at the von Trapp home, in the Austrian mountains — and takes us there. With this production, Brennan and company remind us that the simplicity of “The Sound of Music” is also the heart of its power.