As far as musicals go, very little beats the power of The Sound of Music for me. Brought up on it from an early age and having performed it twice, it has a very secure place in my heart and I jump at any opportunity to indulge in its music and storyline. For some it may be old-fashioned now, perhaps too saccharine-sweet for modern tastes but I adore it and will happily wallow in it every time Julie Andrews appears running up that mountain on screen at Christmas! How disappointing then to start watching a production with such anticipation and leave feeling completely cold and lacking emotion at the end.
First impressions were promising, this production boasts an impressive opulent set for both the Abbey and the Von Trapp house and the orchestra under the musical direction of Jeremy Wootton brings an excellent pace and vibrancy to the score. The opening Nun’s Chorus paved the way for some excellent harmony singing throughout from the female ensemble, but the cracks in the production began to show when two (rather tall) members of the male ensemble appeared dressed as additional nuns in the back row. Placing them in dimly lit areas of the stage was not enough to disguise them and we left the venue questioning whether a little less spend on the set and more invested in giving two more young actresses their first step on the professional ladder might not have been more worthwhile.
Welsh National Opera performer Megan Llewellyn took the role of the Mother Abbess. Undeniably a strong singer, she belted out all her numbers with immense power. Sadly this overpowered the beautiful harmonies of the other nuns in How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria and although her rendition of Climb Every Mountain brought the first act to a climax it was less an emotional one, more a matter of sheer, deafening volume as the final notes played. Her characterisation of the Mother Abbess was the bounciest I have ever seen and while this made for a friendlier relationship with Emilie Fleming’s Maria, it just did not seem to possess the required reverence needed.
As Maria, Fleming sang well throughout but I did not get the sense of her wild, rebellious spirit that underlines the whole reason for her being sent away from the abbey. Andrew Lancel’s diffident, broken Captain Von Trapp brought a refreshing change to what can become a slightly wooden role, but the overall insipid characterisation between the two left the later romantic moments feeling far too tentative. In places the gestures and delivery of the lines was almost mechanical, as if the show was still in the early stages of rehearsal and that the direction had not quite explored the motives behind the movements.
This was symptomatic of the whole production which felt more like a ‘paint-by-numbers’ effort to recreate the film on stage than something which had seen real attention to the emotion and sentiment of the storyline addressed in rehearsals.
The children’s cast were all strong, with well-executed, slick performances throughout and there were enjoyable performances from the supporting company but overall this production feels mis-cast and as if the producers were looking for a quick way to make money.
Given the standing ovation in the audience on opening night, I may be in the minority in my thoughts and I hope that anyone who sees the show this week enjoys the performances. However, if you were thinking of taking someone to see it soon, I would recommend not paying into the commercial tour and instead look to support local amateur companies due to perform it near you. Find a production where every adult and child on the stage has worked hard in their spare time to retell this story for you and hopefully you will find a performance with genuine heart to it.
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