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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Sound of Music

The Sound of Music Gets a New Star
by Charlotte Loveridge
The Sound of Music
Summer Strallen as Maria
(Photo: Tristram Kenton)
Determined to match the buzz of reality television show How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria , Andrew Lloyd Webber’s re-casting of this coveted musical part involved one of the most elaborate and bizarre publicity stunts in the history of West End theatre. Secretly planted in the teen soap drama Hollyoaks months ago, Summer Strallen’s character (also called Summer) was given the part of Maria by a cameo-appearing Andrew Lloyd-Webber. The hope of the producer prostituting himself in this way with television, presumably, is that tickets sales will shoot up as the demographic addicted to Hollyoaks suddenly conceive a desire to see the musical.

Nevertheless, this dalliance with reality television seems quite unnecessary as Summer Strallen is a consummate professional with her musical career reaching back as far as the age of seven, when she appeared as a kitten in Cats. Her Maria was winsome, full of pluck and vocally very strong. The rest of this persuasive production continues to impress, especially Simon Burke’s stoical Captain von Trapp who thaws convincingly and Margaret Preece’s Mother Abbess with operatic range.

Except for the new star and some other cast changes, The production notes are the same as in the original review that follows, with the only changes in the cast which stars: Summer Strallen, Simon Burke, Margaret Preece; and features Luke Fredericks, Paul Grunert, Amy Lennox, Fiona Sinnott, David Calvert/Shea Davis/Jarod Hardcastle, Sarah Gabony/Kiera Marner/Amber Pursey, James Donaghey/Richard Linnell/Benjamin Sunderland, Cecilia Dunhill/Ellie Jenkins/Hannah Lowther, Lauren Downing/Louisa Pinkney/Abigail Sayell, Eliza Lowe/Ellisa Walker-Reid/Millie White, Paul Kemble, Vivien Care, Christopher Blades, Emma Lindars, Gemma Baird, Jon De Ville, David Wilder, Robert Maskell

Original review by by Lizzie Loveridge

There's nothing more irresistible to a man than a woman who's in love with him.
---- The Baroness
Cynics might say that this production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's most loved musical has manipulated an instant audience through its use of a reality television programme, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, to cast the role of the Austrian postulant nun turned governess turned wife. The producers have got themselves as much pre-show publicity as they could handle with a serious quantity of advance box office.

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.

Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Book by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse
Suggested by The Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp
Directed by Jeremy Sams

Starring: Lesley Garrett, Connie Fisher, Alexander Hanson, Lauren Ward
With: Claire Massie, Susie Fenwick, Margaret Preece, Nicola Sloane, Paul Kemble, Sophie Bould, Joe Cooper, John McCrea, Greg West, Poppy Lee Friar/Georgia Russell/Christine Tucker, Jack Montgomery/Michael Parsons/Piers Stubbs, Olivia Gould/Caroline Riley/Grace Vance, Yasmin Garrag/Molly May Keston/Emily Lane, Adrianna Bertola, Lauren Downing/Dora Gee/Alicia Gould, Neil McDermott, Ian Gelder, Alan Vicary, Amanda Hall, John Griffiths, Emma Lindars, Katie Fabel, Anthony Cable, Christopher Blades, Ian Caddick
Set and Costume Design: Robert Jones
Orchestrations: Robert Russell Bennett
Dance and Vocal Arrangements: Trude Rittmann
Musical Director: Michael Lloyd
Musical Supervisor: Simon Lee
Choreographer: Arlene Phillips
Lighting: Mark Henderson
Sound: Mick Potter
Running time: Two hours forty minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 890 1108
Booking to 14 April 2007
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 16th November 2006 performance at the London Palladium, Argyll Street, London W1 (Tube: Oxford Circus)
The Sound of Music: Musical Numbers
Act One
  • "Preludium
  • "The Sound of Music"/Maria
  • "Maria"/Sister Berthe, Sister Sophia, Sister Margaretta and the Mother Abbess
  • "My Favourite Things"/The Mother Abbess and Maria
  • "I Have Confidence"/Maria
  • "Do-Re-Mi"/Maria and the Children
  • "Sixteen Going on Seventeen"/Rolf and Liesl
  • "How Can Love Survive"/Max and the Baroness
  • "The Sound of Music (Reprise)"/Children, Captain and Maria
  • "The Lovely Goatherd"/Maria and the Children
  • "Ländler"/Maria and the Children
  • "So Long, Farewell"/Children
  • "Climb Ev'ry Mountain"/The Mother Abbess
Act Two
  • "Entr'acte"/The Orchestra
  • "No Way to Stop It"/Baroness, Max and the Captain
  • "Something Good"/Maria and the Captain
  • "The Wedding Processional"/Nuns
  • "Sixteen Going on Seventeen (Reprise)"/Rolf and Liesl
  • "Do-Re-Mi (Reprise)"/Maria, Children and the Captain
  • "Edelweiss"/The Captain, Maria and the Children
  • "So Long, Farewell (Reprise)"/Maria, Children and the Captain
  • "Climb Ev'ry Mountain (Reprise)"/The Mother Abbess and the Company
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©Copyright 2006, Elyse Sommer.
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