Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Lately

Getting to Know Edward Hibbert

Starring in The Sound of Music as Uncle Max, Edward Hibbert talks about the creative process, his family's connection to Julie Andrews, and where he and co-star Billy Zane go when they hit the town.

Known for his many stage roles—both plays and musicals—as well as his role on the modern classic sitcom Frasier, Edward Hibbert stars in The Sound of Music  as Max Detweiler, the lovable and somewhat mysterious impresario who wants to make stars out of the von Trapp Family Singers. While on a break from the busy rehearsal schedule, Edward chatted in his dressing room at Lyric about the creative process, his family's connection to Julie Andrews, and where he and co-star Billy Zane go when they hit the town.

Can you give us some insight into the rehearsal process? Just judging from the overview director Marc Bruni gave on the first day of rehearsal, this is a massive undertaking.

It's epic. I think all musicals separate the men from the boys, in terms of scheduling. On top of which, you have these wonderful children and because of the child labor rules they can only work limited hours. So the navigation of working out this mammoth show is quite an undertaking. It requires a lot of disciplined, focused organization, which Marc Bruni certainly knows how to do. He's so smart and thorough about the characters, their interconnection, the dynamics of the show. We're in very good hands.

How are you approaching the character of Max?

He's rather neglected in the movie! He has a much better part in the show. I find him a fascinating character. He's got the lion's share of some very witty lines that permeate through the show. It's also quite a complex role because—although he's referred to as "lovable Uncle Max" and he is indeed highly responsible for entering them into the festival—there's an ambivalence about him politically. Is he a Nazi sympathizer? Who is he really? I think it's left to the actor to decide. There are quite a lot of levels to him. And two rather nice songs with the lovely Elizabeth Futral.

Do you have a favorite song or moment in the show?

I think it has a wonderful score. I do think that both the songs that Max have, one is a duet with Elsa and the other is a trio with Captain von Trapp and Elsa, they are both extremely smart, melodic songs not in the movie and therefore not familiar to a lot of audiences. I'm very fond of both of them. They are both Cole Porter-type songs in the middle of all of this sweet, melodic music. They are quite smart and sophisticated.

Is it true that your father starred in a musical with a teenaged Julie Andrews—and that it was her Broadway debut?

He did! I thank him and the show, The Boy Friend by Sandy Wilson, for giving me my American birthright. My mother came over and joined my father in New York and happily the show was a hit, and so I was born in New York.

Many people know you well from Frasier, as the always-hilarious Gil Chesterton. How did that experience come about as someone known for stage acting? Had you done a lot of television before?

I had in England and then not much in America. It was really a play I did, a rather wonderful play by Paul Rudnik (a very funny writer) called Jeffrey, which took me to Los Angeles and that acted as a very good showcase for me. Out of that, I started to get television work and one of the things was a guest spot on Frasier. It was written originally as a one-time guest shot. It was an episode called "Frasier Crane's Day Off" in season 1, in which Frasier gets the flu and this persnickety restaurant critic takes his time slot. I guess they all liked it a lot because suddenly it went from being a one off to being a heavily recurring character, which was very lovely for me.

If you had to pick a favorite episode or moment from Frasier, what would it be?

I think probably the one where we do the radio play. That is classic, it really is. It's hard to pick because the problem is that I watch it with incredulity now—we all look so young, of course—as it's shown perennially on a nightly basis. It also saddens me because it is material that is so brilliant and stunningly clever. I don't think there's anything on television that comes near it now. To me, it was the end of an era when Frasier folded up shop.

Can you give a Gil Chesterton-esque review of a restaurant here in Chicago?

I've had a lot of time enjoying the restaurants in Chicago. I'd better watch it or my clothes aren't going to fit for the show! I was taken by Billy Zane to RL, the Ralph Lauren restaurant, which has the most delightful staff, beautiful dining room, and fantastic food. Second to that, I went two nights running I loved it so much, to Gilt Bar. It has a downstairs room and is really lovely.

Of your many theater roles and experiences you have had in your career, what has been your favorite so far?

I did my first-ever cabaret show, that was very thrilling, terrifying and thrilling. I plan to do that some more. You get a great sense of freedom because it's just you and a rather wonderful pianist. I've been very lucky. I did two original Broadway musicals back-to-back: The Drowsy Chaperone and then Curtains with my old pal David Hyde Pierce. It was the happiest company I've ever worked with; we were all so, so in love with each other.

I loved playing Oscar Wilde in a play called Gross Indecency. It was thrilling to speak his words every night—and exhausting too. I think what I'd like next is a new play. I'm short of those. I love revivals, and I love doing Oscar Wilde or Bernard Shaw or Noël Coward. But something new would be wonderful, and there are so many new good playwrights around writing good plays.

What do you like to do when you're here in town? Do you have any favorite attractions you're checking out?

I haven't had a moment! We're rehearsing this huge, epic musical! I plan to go to the Art Institute of Chicago. I plan to go see some theater. Once we're into the run, of course, I shall play tourist.

Finally, let's take the Sound of Music character quiz and see if you're really a Max!

That's cute! I'm an Elsa. It's too funny. Shall we tell Elizabeth?

Photo credit:

  • Edward Hibbert (credit Joan Marcus)

Heritage Bicycles and THE SOUND OF MUSIC

A special production like The Sound of Music calls for very special props. Learn more about the custom-made bikes from Chicago's own Heritage Bicycles that were especially designed for the von Trapp children and Rolf!

When Lyric starts to gather the props for a grand-scale new production of  The Sound of Music, our expert production team tries to find as many authentic and unique sources as possible. Set designer Michael Yeargan's plans for the show included bicycles for the von Trapp children and Rolf—which meant finding some period-appropriate bikes. It was also important to both Michael and director Marc Bruni that the bikes look new, because the von Trapp family was wealthy, making vintage bikes out of the question. 

How do you solve a problem like these bicycles? The answer was right here in Chicago! Heritage Bicycles General Store is owned by Michael and Melissa Salvatore, who pride themselves on manufacturing every custom bicycle they make completely in Chicago. Located just south of Lincoln and Belmont in the Lakeview neighborhood, Heritage Bicycles is a general store where you can try out a bike, buy a new helmet, or just get a great latte!

Owner Michael Salvatore gave us some insight into how they make each bike and his family's connection to Lyric Opera! Michael is a Chicago native who, oddly enough, went to Hardey Prep—the same grade school as our own Captain von Trapp, Billy Zane. 

How long does it take for you to manufacture each bicycle?

We generally have two steps. First, we run a production of a frame and size. Ideally, we make 40 at a time of any one type/size. This generally takes up to 3 weeks to complete. This gives us the raw frame. Second, we meet with customers to customize their bike. This can take 3 to 5 weeks depending on the upgrades. Custom paint will take 14 to 21 days and, depending on components and ordering, the finished product may take another week or so.

Are the bikes one of your regular styles or custom for the show? Did you have to make specific modification to make sure they were appropriate for the late 1930s, when the show is set?

Well, on the specific instance of The Sound of Music, we had just completed making our first run of step-through Dutch-inspired bicycles. When you gave us the call and we dug into the story and props a little more, it was obvious to me that "The Jane" was the bike that would be a fit for the musical. We just had to make some slight adjustments to customize specifically for this production.

Have you made bikes for any other theater productions, films, or TV shows?

Back in 2012 we sent a couple bikes out for a movie called Chinese Puzzle. It was being filmed in New York City. We have also sent bikes to The Steve Harvey Show. Last year, we made bikes for Lollapalooza and Pitchfork.

Out of the many accomplishments Heritage Bicycles General Store has had over the past couple years, I have never heard my parents be as excited as they were when they heard we were making the bikes for Lyric Opera. They have been subscribers for 25+ years, and I am sure the moment they see our bikes on stage their heads are going to blow! So thanks for giving me some parental points. 

You can see the custom craftsmanship of Michael and his team on stage at Lyric from April 25 to May 25!

Photo credit

  • Heritage Bicycles custom-made for The Sound of Music (Todd Rosenberg / Lyric Opera of Chicago)


My Favorite Things: Elizabeth Futral

The lovely Elizabeth Futral returns to Lyric Opera to portray Elsa Schraeder, Maria's sophisticated rival for Captain von Trapp's affections in the new production of  The Sound of Music. When she's not traveling the world as an in-demand soprano, here are just a few of the ways she likes to spend her free time.

A Chicago favorite, Elizabeth Futral returns to Lyric Opera to portray Elsa Schraeder, Maria's sophisticated rival for Captain von Trapp's affections in the new production of The Sound of Music. An alumna of Lyric's own Ryan Opera Center, Futral was last at Lyric in 2013, when she portrayed Musetta in Puccini's La Bohème. When she's not wooing a dashing captain, here are just a few of the things that she enjoys. 


To Kill a Mockingbird



Lately, Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek 

TV show 

Breaking Bad



Leontyne Price



The Rake's Progress (Stavinsky)



Boiled Crawfish


Gardening, Hiking

Vacation spot 

New Zealand


Favorite pet ever—the late Samson (toy poodle) who traveled the world with me

Scents or smells 

Blackberry and Musk (Mur et Musc—L'Artisan Parfumerie)

Treasured possession 

Our home in Virginia

Guilty pleasure 

Garrett Popcorn's Chicago Mix 


Photo credits:

  • Elizabeth Futral (credit Karli Cadel)
  • New Zealand (credit Travel News Digest)
  • Chicago Mix (credit Garrett Popcorn)

(Lyric Opera of Chicago does not own copyrights to any of the above videos.)

Celebrating opera & mariachi in Pilsen!

Lyric Unlimited is proud to present  Canciones y arias, a special performance showcasing the many musical connections between mariachi music and opera on Friday, April 11 and Saturday, April 12 at the beautiful performing arts center at Benito Juárez Community Academy in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood.


Think opera and mariachi music don't have anything in common? Think again! 

Lyric Unlimited is proud to present Canciones y arias, a special performance showcasing the many musical connections between mariachi music and opera on Friday, April 11 and Saturday, April 12 at the beautiful performing arts center at Benito Juárez Community Academy in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood.

Featuring the award-winning Mariachi Aztlán from the University of Texas Pan-American, along with Suzette Mayobre and classical singers Sonja Krenek (soprano) and Carlos A. Feliciano (tenor), this hour-long performance showcases the drama and intensity of storytelling through song—both traditional mariachi songs and classical arias—using examples of popular Mexican musicians like singer Jorge Negrete and composer Manuel M. Ponce, as well as operatic excerpts from Verdi, Puccini, Donizetti, and more.

The program traces the ties between the traditional art form of opera and the modern sounds of mariachi music, exploring the roots of mariachi—from indigenous folk music, African and European influences to the Western classical musical tradition of opera. 

Plus, before and after each concert, attendees can view an exhibit by youth artists from Yollocalli Arts Reach and Benito Juárez Community Academy  in the lobby. A student mariachi ensemble of the Chicago Mariachi Project will be performing after each of the concerts as well!

Here is a sneak preview of this very special event:


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