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A CurtainUp London Review
The Sound of Music
Original review by by Lizzie Loveridge
Andrew Lloyd-Webber and David Ian are two of the producers who were featured on the weekly BBC series which employed telephone voting from the public to choose a Maria from a large group of women, many of whom had little or no professional training. However, Connie Fisher the chosen girl, was professionally trained and could well have got the part in the normal course of auditioning. And she has a most charming personality with a lovely smile and won me over instantly. Her singing voice is sweet and true but not as powerful as I would have expected but then she has to compete with the formidably voiced opera star Lesley Garrett as the Mother Abbess. The show was struck with a last minute challenge when Simon Shepherd withdrew as Captain Von Trapp, by mutual consent with the producers, after two preview performances, to be replaced by Alexander Hanson.
The Sound of Music may have flaws when looked at dispassionately. The lyrics have a saccharine sweetness which only children can hear without feeling slightly nauseous but the tunes themselves are so eminently hummable I feel like a grouch in pointing this out. The story line has exaggerated the anti-Nazi role of Austrian nationalist Captain von Trapp; the family did not leave as fugitives on a mountain path but on a scheduled train having bought their tickets. However it is based on a true story which gives it more credibility than if it were a complete fiction and there are moments in the show which tugged my heart strings.
When the bosun pipe whistling summoner of children and staff, Von Trapp returns from one of his many business trips and manages to hug each child in turn, many in the audience were groping for their handkerchief in a moment of genuine emotion. I liked too orphan Maria's plea to the Mother Abbess to be allowed to stay at the monastery, not out of religious need but complete panic at losing her only home. The children are always delightful. Somehow onstage their personalities made more impact than I remember them doing in the film and that of course helps the storyline as Maria demonstrates to Von Trapp the individual strengths of his children.
The setting are sumptuous but exactly right: the tall castle with its magnificent staircase and dust covered chandelier, the purple stone abbey with a gate fit for Hyde Park, the tall thin trunks of the pines in the countryside outside Salzburg. At the music festival the unrelenting red and black swastika draped stage is chillingly stiffling as the oppressive regime takes hold through fear and intimidation. Even the placing of a Nazi cameraman interfering with our view of the family singing "Eidelweiss" annoys and we find the Nazi presence intrusive. Only the mountainside set did I find slightly curious, lit purple and dark green it could be a planetscape from Mars or the Moon. But the disc of mountainside pivots to give interesting degrees of slope and crevice and allowing Maria to clamber up it barefoot. The costumes are pretty and pleasurable to the eye and the little girls have hairstyles plaited and wound into earphones with pretty ribbons.
Lesley Garret closes the first act with her fully operatic rendition of "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" – she has a voice to die for – Oh Sister! The troupe of children seriously threaten to steal the show such is their unassuming natural vitality. Liesl (Sophie Bould) occasionally looks older than Maria as she struggles with becoming a woman. If I have reservations about the casting I would have liked a more handsome Von Trapp and fondly think back to the thigh trembling attraction of Christopher Plummer. I liked Lauren Ward's elegant Baroness who catches gauche Maria with a mouthful of snaffled cake much to the younger rival's embarrassment. Connie Fisher is delightful and her unselfconscious charm cannot fail to capture hearts. Connie's story of how she won the part with hard work and tenacity cannot but help enhance her fairy tale image. It is not a question of whether The Sound of Music will run at the London Palladium but for how many years it will continue to draw an ecstatic public.
Editor's Note: Broadway did a revival of the show which proved critic proof enough to last through two casts, one featuring Rebecca Luker who currently plays Mrs. Banks in the Broadway production of Mary Poppins (review). CurtainUp's review of that Broadway revival of TheSound of Music which includes some fascinating background notes. Sound of Music Broadway Revival & Background Notes.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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