Review The Sound of Music, New Theatre, Cardiff by Barbara Michaels


(4 / 5)


Everlastingly popular, and guaranteed to play to packed audiences – in the materialistic world in which we live the story of the tempestuous Maria, the young would-be nun who ends up marrying the naval commander Captain Von Trapp with a brood of children, is eternally popular. Not surprisingly, this Bill Kenwright touring production played to a packed house on opening night in Cardiff, despite Sound of Music having been staged here barely three years ago.

It is, course, the music which is largely responsible for making The Sound of Music unfailingly popular with both young and old: Songs such as The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Music and the tear-jerking ‘Edelweiss’. Welsh soprano Megan Llewellyn’s powerful soprano is well suited to the Mother Abbess of the Abbey, capable of coping with a demanding part central to the story and the action. As for the nuns who form the choir – some wonderful singing although I would have preferred the show’s opening number The Nuns of the Nonnberg Abbey to have begun on a softer note.

Set in Salzburg at the end of the 1930s, with the rumblings of war closing in on Europe, the musical has its dark side, reminding us of the perils that faced those who did not agree with the Nazi regime when their country was overrun by the Germans. This element is projected in the dilemma facing the Captain and the danger he and his family face when he receives a so-called ‘invitation’ (in fact an order) to command a ship in the navy of the Reich.

Not easy for any actress to take on the role of Maria – Julie Andrews’ soaring soprano in the hit 1965 film is a hard act to follow. Lucy O’Byrne, who was runner up in BBC One’s The Voice in 2015 and appeared as Fantine in Les Miserables, was accorded rave reviews in the 2016 tour of Sound of Music. O’Byrne has a great voice and the seemingly boundless energy that the role demands, excelling in the musical numbers with the Von Trapp children.

Playing a central role in the story are those very children – and what a great band they are, from the ‘Sixteen, going on seventeen’ Liesl, played by Katie Shearman, to the smallest, Gretl. Which brings me to what stands out in this production – the choreography. Choreographer Bill Deamer has brought an added dimension to the role of Liesl with a balletic pas de deux danced exquisitely by Liesel and her pro-Nazi admirer Rolf Gruber, an edgy performance by Jordan Oliver.

As the naval Captain Von Trapp, Neil McDermott’s stiff upper-lip appears to preclude much in the way of facial expression, and at times he appears not altogether at ease in the role. It is not until Act II that McDermott’s strong baritone is heard to advantage in Edelweiss – a tear-jerker if ever there was one.

The cameo role of Max Detweiler, is tailor-made for Howard Samuel, who brings a touch of the Noel Coward to the role with a canny but warm-hearted Detweiler, unashamedly backing the winning side.

Gary McCann’s sets are in the most part faithful to the original, in particular the interiors of the Abbey and the Von Trapp mansion, although at times the hills between Austria and Switzerland are perhaps more reminiscent of, say, the Sierra Nevada.

Runs until Saturday February 17 at the New Theatre.

Book: Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse

Music: Richard Rodgers

Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II

Director: Martin Connor

Choreographer: Bill Deamer

Musical Director David Steadman

Barbara Michaels


Review Funny Girl Wales Millennium Centre by Barbara Michaels


(4 / 5)


Funny Girl brings West End’s finest to Cardiff, with a cast and supporting ensemble singers and dancers honed to the highest degree of excellency. Based on the real-life story of actress and comedian Fanny Brice, Funny Girl opened as a musical in 1963 on Broadway, transferring to the West End a year later. For many of us, Barbra Streisand’s performance as Fanny in the film still remains in the memory as one of the shining star performances in theatre history.

All the more credit, then, to Sheridan Smith for taking on and embracing a role that calls for every ounce of energy as well as talent in the current revival which opened in the West End last year. Taking place in and around New York just prior to and following World I, this production is staged in its entirety beneath the proscenium arch of the Ziegfeld Theatre, with settings including Fanny’s dressing room at the theatre, Fanny’s home and various other venues where she performed. It’s a rags-to-riches story of Fanny’s rise to stardom and the rise and fall of the courtship and marriage between the unconventional, quirky Fanny and dishy gambler Nick Arnstein.

Smith has the poignancy and the self-doubt behind Fanny’s jokey façade to a T, bringing a tear to the eyes with her singing of People in Act I and belting out with gusto numbers such Don’t Rain on My Parade, although with a tendency now and then to go over the top. Great duets, too, with Darius Campbell as the inveterate gambler Arnstein, who sits down with alacrity to play poker with Fanny’s mum, the indomitable Mrs Brice, and her mates without realising he has fallen into the hands of experts. Campbell is at his best in that scene and in Act I, but not always convincing in the scenes with Smith in the latter half.

The supporting roles do a huge amount towards making this musical what it is, with real star quality from Rachel Izen as Fanny’s mother and Myra Sands as her friend and fellow poker player Mrs Strakosh and some great rendering of numbers such as If A Girl Isn’t Pretty in the opening scene. The nimble-footed Joshua Lay is a wonderfully emotive Eddie Ryan, the dancer who encourages fanny but gets no encouragement from her as far as their personal relationship is concerned. Lay displays some brilliant and acrobatic tap dancing, while Nigel Barber’s portrayal of the legendary Florenz Ziegfeld is almost surreal in its believability.

The dancers and singers of the ensemble have style and panache, with some high speed numbers, notably Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat in Act II, with choreography which includes a touch of the Irish, backed up in intensely green costumes (St Patrick’s Day et al). As for the music – wonderful, with Jule Styne’s tremendous score arranged for this production by Alan Williams and top rank choreography by Lynne Page.

A feel-good show, this – catch it if you can.

Runs until Saturday 8th July

Music: Jule Styne

Lyrics: Bob Merrill

Book: Isobel Lennart

Director: Michael Mayer

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels