(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