I was just the right age to be taken regularly by every relative to see the film at the classic Queens cinema in Newcastle when it was released. But now it still plays regularly on television and tours as a singalonga night out, so audiences of all ages are still familiar with the story and music.
When there was a reality TV show to pick a new Maria for a Palladium revival of the show, I picked Connie Fisher as the winner from the first time she was seen. Not only did she go on to win the show and receive fantastic reviews, the lady herself has rejoined the musical as it tours the UK and currently plays Sunderland until December 5th, opening virtually three years to the day after the show opened at the Palladium.
The production is a no expense spared, glossy, feel good production that lets you forget your cares as you enter the world of Maria and Captain Von Trapp (excellently played by Michael Praed). With both the dialogue and songs being so familiar, you can literally sit back and allow this show to wrap its arms around you, it’s just like visiting an old friend.
For production reasons a song may have moved in the story from where it is placed in the film version and there are a couple of original songs added back in but they are small annoyances to an otherwise faultless stage production of a classic musical.
Fisher is perfect as Maria, while giving the role her own mark, she allows you to glimpse familiar Julie Andrews version of Maria at the same time, so you accept the character immediately. She proves immediately that she was the rightful winner of the TV show which gave her the role as a prize. Playing opposite her Michael Praed brings the right amount of steely determination to the role as Captain and the scene where he drops his guard and connects once again with his children is beautifully played.
We first meet Maria as she sings in the hills above the convent, before the Mother Abbess (Margaret Preece) sends her to work as governess for widower Captain Von Trapp and his seven children. While the Captain is already preparing to become engaged to Baroness Schraeder (Jacinta Mulcahy) he falls in love with Maria as she allows music back in to his life and the children to break away from the regimentation he has enforced upon them.
With tensions mounting in Austria and the Captains’ imminent enforced departure to the German Navy the family plan their escape to Switzerland with the help of the nuns. Ironically the story is based on fact and the family’s story after they flee Austria is equally as fascinating as the events leading up to their escape.
Arlene Phillips choreography makes each musical number appear fresh and a pleasure to watch. Robert Jones set is great to look at and nicely hides a few surprises, especially at the end of Act One and Director Jeremy Sams has brought a new lease of life to the musical with a first class cast.
While the score is littered with classic songs , such as “Do-Re-Mi”, “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”, “Edelweiss” and “Sixteen Going On Seventeen”, it was the interaction between the leading players and the children that was a joy to watch as it appeared so natural and relaxed. This is a great feel good family musical which rightly deserves the standing ovation that greeted it on opening night.