The Sound of Music
Music by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, suggested by The Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp
Andrew Lloyd Webber/ David Ian and The Really Useful Group production
New Victoria Theatre, Woking, and touring
It is not often one feels moved to begin a critique with the scenery, but this is a lavish production and Robert Joness set is an awe inspiring miracle of creativity and precision engineering and a great improvement on the suspended dangerously tilting disc which represented mountains in the original at the Palladium. That is not to say that it overshadows the show. As each scene dissolves and morphs seamlessly into the next it is as if we ourselves have moved to another venue. The logistics of touring such a set are overwhelming, but justified by the finished effect.
The undoubted star of Sound of Music is the score. How could it be otherwise with Rodgers memorable music teamed with Hammersteins lyrics, so relevant to the story and equally memorable? Played exquisitely by a fourteen piece orchestra, tunes such as My Favourite Things, Do-Re-Mi and Maria had the audience enraptured, tapping their feet and swaying appreciatively.
The story, although basically true, has been changed and sentimentalised, but has all the right ingredients for success - a rags to riches captivating love story, a daring and dangerous escape across the mountains from an Austria annexed by the Nazis, and a troupe of cute children to enchant. It can be saccharine sweet, but director Jeremy Sams hasnt ladled on too much sugar, only leaving a few tear-jerking moments, and the narrative proceeds at a cracking pace - so much so that unavoidably there is no time for the characters to develop satisfactorily. No sooner has Maria arrived as governess to the regimented Von Trapp children than she has them playing games, singing in perfect harmony, and has run up outfits for them all from a pair of curtains, not to mention falling in love with their father.
Connie Fisher - the winner of the part in a TV reality show - is to perform on the tour, but on press night her place was taken by Kirsty Malpass who seemed a little nervous at the beginning but soon got into her stride and provided us with a delightful Maria, full of charm, boyish gaucheness, and boundless energy. She interacts well with the children, and her facial expressions and body language show every emotion, from eager-to-please as a Novice at the Convent, to indignantly berating Captain Von Trapp for the treatment of his family. The audience also really enjoyed her discomfiture when, caught stuffing surreptitious cake into her mouth, she tries to converse normally - not possible! Her acting expertise is without question!
Michael Praed is suitably autocratic as the dictatorial Captain, although a little stiff and less credible when trying to show affection to the children - here a very talented, professional and well rehearsed group, composed this evening of Oliver Harper, Kirsten White, Joseph Britt, Sophia Millard, Summer Emery, Lydia Baker and Clare Fishenden who as Liesl has her own touching love story which includes a small, but beautiful ballet sequence. Choreography is by Arlene Phillips, who is also responsible for the intricate cuckoo clock routine which the children perform perfectly - and the ballroom scene is a dream of swirling elegance and beauty beneath glittering chandeliers. Another scene shows Maria with the children in a thunderstorm and the choreography here (not dance but intricate movement) is very impressive - and fun.
Jacinta Mulcahy balances her character of Baroness Schraeder perfectly between overbearing and sympathetic, and she looks terrific - beautiful, elegant and superbly gowned. A business woman in control of her own life and affairs, she meant to control the Captain but breaks off the engagement when she sees how he and Maria look at each other. Of course it may also have had something to do with her life-preserving philosophy of getting along with the Nazis, something entrepreneur Max (expertly portrayed, comically but very believably, by Martin Callaghan) is trying to do, his plans and life thrown into disarray when he helps the Von Trapps escape.
A sigh comes from the audience - sorrow that the show had to end - but they make their feelings obvious by the cheering and waving standing ovation.
Until 10th July, then touring to Birmingham, Plymouth, Bournemouth, Liverpool, Bristol and Oxford
Reviewer: Sheila Connor