The Sound of Music is one of those rare musicals that are so engrained in our collective memory and culture that it needs no introduction. Through the globally successful 1965 movie starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, which is oft repeated on television, there can be few people alive who have not seen this story, or heard the sublime music and lyrics of Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II, in what was to be their last work together. Many of the songs have become standards: “Edelweiss”, “Climb Every Mountain”, “Do-Re-Mi”, “My Favourite Things”, and the title song “The Sound of Music” – and so familiar to audiences that (somewhat annoyingly to those of us of a more grumpy disposition) any public performance runs the risk of becoming a sing-a-long event!
Based on the memoirs of Maria von Trapp, ‘The Story of the Trapp Family Singers’, with a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, this show is set at one of the darkest points in 20th century history, and deals with difficult topics not usually the subject of the Broadway musical, but with a lightness of touch which still allows everyone to leave the theatre on a high.
This production started life at the London Palladium after Andrew Lloyd Webber’s very public search for an actress to play Maria, on BBC 1s How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? That search launched Connie Fisher’s west end career, and she took the role both in London, and for the early stages of this new tour.
Kirsty Malpass (whose theatre credits include Lord of the Rings and Jerry Springer the Opera) dons the wimple and makes a creditable Maria, with a performance not unlike that of Fisher’s before her. Michael Praed (forever remembered for his roles in Robin of Sherwood and Dynasty on TV) cuts an imposing figure as the Captain, and Marilyn Hill Smith, as Mother Abbess, stops the show with her wonderfully operatic rendition of the inspirational ‘Climb Every Mountain’ .
True to all Lloyd Webber productions, this is a very polished and precise show, and the entire cast are excellent. Mark Henderson’s expert lighting design shows off Robert Jones’ beautiful sets and costumes perfectly, and the full orchestra (a rare treat indeed for touring shows nowadays) under the musical direction of Jonathan Gill sounds superb. Overall though, the performance is not quite equal to the sum of its parts, and feels a little like a text book interpretation, lacking that certain extra something that lifts a good show into a great show. There are moments of magic of course – every time the excellent troupe of children (headed by the sixteen-going-on-seventeen Liesel, played by the sweet voiced Claire Fishenden) comes on stage. Their collective performance shines through, most effectively in the ‘So Long, Farewell’ routine. And in the abbey, the choral sounds of the Nuns, especially during Maria’s wedding scene, are glorious.
There is no doubt that this production delivers everything that die-hard fans of the Sound of Music would want and is therefore highly recommended. With just a few more sparks of imagination though this production could be brilliant, and engage with the new audience that it needs to keep this amazing, important part of our cultural heritage alive for the next generation.