The Sound of Music

Music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, book by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse, suggested by The Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp
The New Shakespeare Company
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

Charlotte Wakefield (centre) as Maria Rainer, Faye Brooks (right) as Liesl and the other Trapp children
Helen Hobson as Mother Abbess and Charlotte Wakefield as Maria Rainer
Michael Xavier as Captain von Trapp and Caroline Keiff as Elsa Schraeder (foreground) with party guests
Charlotte Wakefield (rear left) as Maria Rainer, Michael Xavier (rear right) as Captain von Trapp and the Trapp children
Faye Brooks (right) as Liesl von Trapp and Joshua Tonks as Rolf

Perennially popular for more than half a century, this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic about those real-life seven siblings, their naval officer dad, a tomboy religious postulant and their escape when the Nazis' take-over of Austria wasn’t originally intended as a musical. It was conceived as a straight play vehicle for Broadway star Mary Martin. Perhaps they would get Rodgers and Hammerstein to add a few songs and soon it was a full-scale musical packed with numbers that we all know.

Rachel Cavanaugh’s production in Regent’s Park is engagingly fluid and straightforward. It doesn’t indulge in gimmicks, unless you count the location—which always adds something special to shows there. The movie version makes one think of grassy slopes and open skies, and if Regent’s Park can’t offer Alps, its grassy verges, sparkling with wild flowers and bosky background, give an airy surround to designer Peter McKintosh’s setting.

An arc of windowed yellow wall with a curving staircase is changed from interior to exterior, abbey to baronial residence, with a change of doors and window dressing that happens when you’re not looking and a few pieces of furniture brought on while a number is still being performed downstage. It couldn’t be smoother nor the first half sweeter, but it avoids the sickly for it is never self indulgent.

Charlotte Wakefield is a charming Maria. Full of vitality and with an attractive songstress. She soon wins the hearts of the audience, though there was competition the night I was there. Maria gets quite a build-up before making her first entrance, singing her way down the mountain from high up at the back of the audience. That was when, with the stage empty, a solitary pigeon seized his star moment, slowly promenading across it. But unlike every other performer he failed to sing. No contest: this was definitely Maria’s night!

Skyscraper-tall Michael Xavier could not be more of a contrast to Miss Wakefield’s cart-wheeling would-be nun. The rigid disciplinarian of his marching brood, he is so unrelaxed there is not much chance for whatever captures her heart to come through.

The younger of his children are played by three groups between whom performances are divided. The ones I saw were delightful, talented performers with no sign of stage school showing off. I hope they are all as good. Eldest daughter Liesl is Faye Brookes, another charming performance, especially in her duet with Joshua Tonks's Rolf, which has been given more dreamily balletic choreography by Alistair David than that for the youngsters.

Caroline Keiff makes a very stylish Elsa Schraeder, adding a touch of humour with her slinky hips—you can see why Captain Trapp would want to marry her—and Michael Matus is more broadly comic as impresario Max Detweiler whose enthusiasm for putting the children in a concert later proves their salvation.

This production gives full weight to Schraeder and Detweiler’s argument that Trapp should guard his back and go along with the German take-over and his resistance to that which makes the darker later scenes especially effective; with storm troops with rifles at the ready in the aisles, things really get dramatic.

So, with nuns' choruses and the soaring voice of Helen Hobson as the Abbess singing “Climb Every Mountain”, this really is The Sound of Music just as it ought to be and accordingly it got a standing reception from an enthusiastic audience.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton