The World’s Most Loved Musical Through New Eyes
If I am honest, I wasn’t all that eager to see The Sound of Music live on stage. Like almost every other human on the planet I have lost count of the number of times I have watched the iconic movie since I was a small child (and I am far from young!). Every song, scene and moment from the classic 1965 movie is etched firmly on my mind and in my personal history. Whenever it pops up on television it brings comfort to know that you can dip in and out of the story at any time and instantly know the dialogue and belt out a signature song … and then happily change channels.
So, sitting in Sydney’s stunning Capitol Theatre waiting for the new Australian production of The Sound of Music to begin, I thought I knew what I was in for.
This new incarnation, produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber, John Frost, David Ian and The Really Useful Group and directed by Jeremy Sams, debuted at the London Palladium on 2006. It is now touring Australia for the first time and premiered in Sydney just before Christmas.
The opening number in the abbey with the nuns’ austere singing, led by Jacqui Dark’s powerful voice as Mother Abbess, sets the tone – clearly this will be the ‘full’ big musical experience. Having the nuns move through the theatre aisles cleverly engages the audience from the start – we are now all personally invested in Maria’s journey.
I don’t envy Amy Lehpamer. Could there be a more difficult role for an actor to play than young Maria Rainer? The legendary Julie Andrews is so synonymous with the character of Maria; it is almost impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. This was my first unexpected surprise from The Sound of Music. Amy Lehpamer is near perfect as the exuberant, free-spirited and failed nun Maria. Both vocally and in performance, Amy is more convincing than I imagined possible. She is reminiscent of Julie Andrews’ Maria in every way without diluting the role to caricature. We first encounter Maria as she frolics in the Austrian alps and delivers the heartfelt title song. The set does its best to depict the sweeping, fresh countryside that feature in the movie’s opening sequences. Surprisingly, it works better than expected on stage and the elaborate sets and props transition easily between scenes.
Other title cast members are Cameron Daddo as uptight father Captain von Trapp, Marina Prior as his intended love interest Baroness Schraeder, Lorraine Bayly as housekeeper Frau Schmidt, and David James as scheming Uncle Max. We all know the Captain’s wooden heart is ultimately won by Maria’s warmth and enthusiasm, and Daddo does well in the role considering he is not known as a singer first and it, too, is strongly iconic from the movie. The fact that he pulls off commendable vocals alongside our own Aussie musical theatre legend Marina Prior is probably achievement enough for Daddo! His strongest performance comes at the end of the show when he is trying to protect his family from the encroaching Nazi henchmen, during which Daddo’s Captain is worried, fragile and poignant. As the swastika banners roll down and armed Nazi storm troopers march into the audience the seriousness of the von Trapps predicament and the Captain’s unwavering political position becomes central to the plot. In fact, the historical and political elements of the von Trapp story as the terror of Hitler’s reign descends on Austria just prior to the outbreak of WWII is told far better in this stage production than in the movie version.
Marina Prior’s part as the Baroness is professionally delivered as expected, giving the part more human dimension than in the film, and her sidekick Uncle Max is refreshingly played by David James, as he has the freedom of making this lesser character his own. I didn’t even realise it was Bayly as the housekeeper until halfway through the show, but she delivers the wry comedy perfectly. Love struck teenagers Liesl and Rolf are played confidently by newcomers Stephanie Jones and Du Toit Bredenkamp, Jones in particular gives weight to the important role of the head strong eldest daughter Liesl.
The second pleasant surprise from watching The Sound of Music is the realization that it’s a really good story. Once the clichés and memories of the movie are removed, the audience is actually able to enjoy the story of Maria and the seven von Trapp children (which is actually based on a true story from the 1930s). It was almost like seeing it for the first time and it was a blessed relief not to have that movie rolling in my mind!
This stage production is also a reminder that The Sound of Music was actually a successful musical on Broadway before being made into a movie. The 1959 Broadway musical was adapted from a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse with original music and lyrics by Rodgers and Hammerstein. This new London Palladium Production is based on the original Broadway musical, which is why any difference to the movie is immediately noticeable, keeping the audience alert. Don’t worry, all the musical gems are included – Do-Re-Mi, Sixteen Going On Seventeen, Climb Every Mountain, Edelweiss, Favourite Things, Maria, So Long Farewell and the show-stopper title song The Sound of Music. Personally, I could have done with a little less Lonely Goatherd and a little more Favourite Things. Unfamiliar numbers from the original Broadway production are How Can Love Survive? and No Way to Stop It.
Mention must be made of the children in The Sound of Music. In the show I saw the children were played by Georgia Campbell (Gretl), Takali Hoogend (Marta), Isabella Taylor (Brigitta), Luc Siboulet (Kurt), Natalie Theodore (Louisa) and Jack Ingram (Friedrich). All of the von Trapp kids delivered clean, energetic performances with all of the cheekiness and humour required, special mention to too-cute Gretl and mischievous Brigitta. Most enjoyable was the much-loved So Long Farewell routine as they said good night at the party and later at the tense Nazi talent show.
I’d also forgotten how funny The Sound of Music is! The script is perfectly dotted with comedy in all the right places and most characters get their chance at comedy at some point, especially the children, Frau Schmidt and Uncle Max. Even super-serious Captain von Trapp gets a few one-liners. But praise is most deserving for Amy’s comedic interpretation of Maria. She beautifully portrays Maria’s youthful enthusiasm and playfulness with her wit and elegance as she evolves from awkward novice nun to devoted wife and mother.
Looking around the audience it is clear why The Sound of Music remains as popular today as it did more than 50 years ago: there are men, women and children of all ages and I guarantee every single one of them was singing along to every song in their minds and hearts. Going to see the stage production of The Sound of Music is like settling back on the lounge with a warm pair of slippers and a hot chocolate – comfortable and familiar it will bring a smile to your face. And like me, seeing this new version of the classic story may just remind you why you loved it so much to start with many, many years ago.
The Sound of Music is currently playing at The Capitol Theatre, Sydney until the end of February. It then moves on to Brisbane’s Lyric Theatre from 11 March, Melbourne’s Regent Theatre from 13 May and the Festival Theatre Adelaide from 9 August. See the official website to book tickets.