The Sound Of Music
New Wimbledon Theatre
2nd April 2015
For a few weeks now I’ve been in the thralls of The Sound Of Music. It happens every now and again. At the moment the film is celebrating it’s 50th Anniversary, so the great gods of social media targeting have found it pertinent to remind me of my love for the show by bringing to prominence a rather good special with Diane Sawyer and Julie Andrews aired on American television last year amongst many other things. A few days ago it was an extended video trailer for a new production being produced by Bill Kenwright starring Danielle Hope. The trailer did its job and I found myself sitting in some rather comfortable seats (loads of legroom) at the New Wimbledon Theatre alongside an audience that ranged from 7 to 80 to watch Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound Of Music – again!
I say again because I can’t remember just how many times I’ve sat through the film, watched the stage show performed by both amateurs and professionals alike and enjoyed the various cast recordings I have in my collection. There is something about the show that provides comfort food for the soul, it’s as simple as that.
This new production being directed by Martin Connor is a glorious production with no corners cut for touring.
Danielle Hope takes on the role of Maria and infuses it with the gusto and likeability needed to make her Maria a warm and loving centre for this story. She’s note-perfect and does justice to the score and her moments with the Von Trapp children are just delightful. If there’s one comment is that in trying to channel her inner Julie Andrews there were some wonky accent moments that distracted ever so slightly from an otherwise wonderful performance.
Steven Houghton takes on the role of Captain Von Trapp. A handsome, aloof disciplinarian, whose barriers are broken down by his encounter with Maria and by music. There is a real spark between Maria and the Captain that helps take the story beyond the saccharine concoction that most people associate with the sound of music.
Their moments together from terse beginnings to the moments when they realise there is something more to their relationships to the romanticism of Something Good are progressed with perfection. Their Lander is electric.
To my mind, the show needs a dose of politics and a sprinkling of danger. All good Rodgers and Hammerstein shows have it. When you think about it they dealt with some very sensitive issues back in the 50’s and The Sound Of Music is no different, the political undercurrent of the Anschluss, the Nazi threat and the upheaval of people’s lives are all necessary parts of what makes The Sound Of Music so special.
It is therefore important that the casting of The Baroness and Max Detweiler are just right. They are the voices of those who see things as inevitable and want to get on the right side of history. It is a mark of the man that the Captain does not concur with their thinking. Sarah Soetaert and Howard Samuels make Elsa and Max likeable leeches throughout. It’s always interesting to see audiences unfamiliar with the stage show react to songs like How Can Love Survive and No Way To Stop It.
What is The Sound Of Music without its children and these children are nothing short of magnificent. They are the centre of this production and you can’t help but fall for the enormous charm that flies off the stage whenever they are present. Together they carry most of the big iconic songs that we know and love from the show, Do-Re-Mi, The Lonely Goatherd, and So Long – Farwell. It’s not an easy task but these young actors are nothing short of brilliant in roles that could quite easily end up being played by young brattish wannabe’s. There is real warmth here!
The nuns of this The Sound Of Music are lead by Jan Hartley as the Mother Abbess. Hartley’s Abbess is one of the best I’ve seen and her Climb Every Mountain was as uplifting and inspirational as you could hope for. Joined by Zoe Anne Bown, Jessica Sherman and Grace Gardner, Maria was a delight.
Luke George was undertaking his professional acting debut in the role of Rolf, a young misguided man who comes good at the crucial moment when he allows the Von Trapp Family to escape the grasp of the Nazis. George was in fine voice and his scenes with Liesl showed both to be confident young performers to watch out for.
Gary McCann has created a moveable feast with his design for this The Sound Of Music. Beautifully painted drops, a majestic staircase and claustrophobic cloisters dominate allowing Director Martin Connor and Choreographer Bill Deamer the chance to paint brilliant images that evoke pre-war Austria and the environs in which this story is set. Deamer’s choreography of the children is fluid and takes the marching of the Von Trapps and transforms it into the movement of fun-loving children.
Musical Director and arranger David Steadman has taken a 10 piece pit band and given them orchestral wings. Steadman’s tempi is full of vim and vigour and is never allowed to become bogged down. In full flight this band is a real treat and it’s worth staying to hear their playout after the show.
It’s great to see so many people of all ages enjoying and loving The Sound Of Music. There’s a magic about the Sound Of Music that defies explanation, generation after generation fall in love with this tale of family, love and adversity and the message of hope that it expels into the audience in wave after wave. How could you do anything but love it.
PS. For The Sound Of Music trivia fans one thing to look out for. Some years back I had the chance to speak to Rodgers and Hammerstein archivist Bruce Pomahac who told me that when restoring original material for the show they had stumbled upon Hammerstein’s original lyrics. If you know the title song for the show you’ll know that most Maria’s sing “to laugh like a brook, as it trips and falls, over stones on its way”. Apparently Hammerstein’s words were actually “stones in its way”. Listen carefully and you will hear the lyricist’s original words back in place as he intended them.