I have seen The Sound of Music, literally, hundreds of times, wrote a dissertation about it for University studies, have an unfeasibly high number of cast recordings of the piece, played Uncle Max once some years ago and has done the obligatory trek to Salzburg to see the sights from the film and check out the Abbey. It is a musical with no surprises.
Or so one thought prior to seeing Rachel Kavanaugh's astonishing, absolutely magical production at the Regent's Open Air Theatre.
No matter what one might have thought about The Sound of Music before, what Kavanaugh achieves here, with a gobsmackingly good cast, redefines it, giving it a truth and honesty and freshness which is utterly, completely joyous.
She is significantly assisted by a wonderful set from Peter McIntosh (having only one set makes the scene changes less time consuming and the action fairly buzzes along) and some truly terrific choreography from Alistair David (what he does with Do-Re-Mi and Lonely Goatherd is exhilarating).
But the performances…they will stay with you for a long time.
As Maria, Charlotte Wakefield is a revelation, pure of voice, pert and beautiful but kind and entirely selfless. You really believe she wanted to be a Nun and you completely understand the difficulty she faces when she starts to fall for the Captain. She conveys her adoration of the children convincingly and in a clever, detailed and nuanced way. There is no artifice here; she is all skill, talent and glowing heart. And she puts aside your memories of Julie Andrews firmly.
Matching her every step of the way, Michael Xavier makes Captain Von Trapp compelling, masculine and totally charming. The scene where his children unexpectedly sing for him is almost unbearable to watch, because he shows you the pain and anguish the Captain has suffered since the loss of his wife cleanly and clearly, with a realism that is extraordinary, and then he shows it fall away as the magic of the music and his children's love penetrates his closed exterior. You watch him fall for Maria and the joyous moment when you are sure they are in sync together, which involves a moat, is a masterstroke of detail. His stature, bearing and demeanour marks him clearly as a thoroughbred Naval officer, a devoted patriot and a parent who has lost his way.
Together, this Maria and this Captain make genuine stage magic.
The seven children are blissfully realised and, most happily, are all cohesive as siblings. Each was perfect, but there was something especially perfect about Ava Merson-O'Brien (Brigitta), Oliver Breedon (Kurt) and Gemma Fray (Gretel). The Nuns provide glorious close harmonies and the trio of Helen Walsh, Chloe Taylor and Nadine Cox are especially good.
Alas, Helen Hobson is not up to the vocal demands of Climb Every Mountain which is a pity, because she brings a deal of real warmth and conviction to the character. Caroline Keiff is a delicious and quite unique Baroness Schrader and she finds a way to make her believable as a love interest for the Captain and not the acidic wasp she so often is. She does excellent work with Max (Michael Matus) and the two “unknown” songs, How Can Love Survive? and No Way To Stop It are genuine highlights here.
Rolf (Joshua Tonks) is slightly too wet and too self conscious dancing to be a triumph, but Stuart Matthew Price (Franz), Gemma Page (Frau Schmidt) and Tim Frances (Zeller) are all quite excellent.
The orchestra under Stephen Ridley is gorgeous and the tempi perfect. This is one of those nights of theatre where tears of pure undisguised joy are commonplace and the feeling of rhapsody at the finale does not seem to permit any interference.
It makes your spirit soar. It shows you what a beautiful revival of a classic musical is all about.