There cannot be many members of the British population who could not, given a rosary and a guitar, play the part of Sister Maria themselves. There will not be many songs unfamiliar to audiences: numbers such as “Do Re Me“, “My Favourite Things” and “Eidelweiss” have entered the liturgy of popular musical theatre.
Sister Maria, a restless incumbent to a nunnery at the foot of the Alps, is sent by her Mother Superior to act as governess to the Von Trapp family. Teaching the children to abandon the strict lifestyle imposed on them by their regimental father, the family learn to welcome the sound of music into their lives. But the story is not all bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens: the encroaching menace of Nazi occupation in Austria is sinisterly explored as Captain Von Trapp is forced to choose between his Naval career and his country.
Connie Fisher comfortably returns to the role which made her an overnight West End star. Excelling as Sister Maria, Fisher cheerfully bounces around the stage, effortlessly demonstrating the vocal sweetness and charisma which earned her the role. Her performance captures the familiarity of Julie Andrews’ portrayal of Maria whilst finding a unique sense of comic charm.
Fisher is backed up by a solid cast. Margaret Preece’s performance as the Mother Superior is heavenly. The strong, operatic voice of the West End leading lady during “Climb Every Mountain” is at once both spectacular and chilling. The Von Trapp children, too, prove sweet and energetic, reaching the top notes as eagerly as their older co-stars and performing Arlene Philips’ lively choreography with great enthusiasm.
Though the scale of the production has undergone some serious reductions since it was last seen in the West End, Robert Jones’ costume and set design remains elegant and sophisticated. Norma Desmond would be proud to appear at the top of Captain Von Trapp’s grand marble art deco staircase and many a monster would happily live confined within the spectacularly gloomy cloisters and gothic peaks of Jones’ convent.
The problem of Maria has never been more happily solved than it is in this beautiful new production.
- Scott Purvis