Driving towards Theatre Severn to see “The Sound of Music” on Wednesday, it suddenly struck me that the fly tower on the Shrewsbury skyline would have been stuffed to the rafters with Alps. The mountains are indeed an ever-present backdrop to this faithful recreation of the original stage musical that debuted on Broadway in 1959. The famous film, staring Julie Andrews – followed is six years later and the ever-opportunist Bill Kenwright launched this new stage production last year to make the most of the movie’s golden jubilee. It was, of course, a popular success. So it’s been recast and is on tour again…with Theatre Severn taking the nervy step of booking a show for two whole weeks for the very first time. They needn’t have worried. Even ITV’s sudden decisions to re-run their ‘live’ version last weekend, barely bothered the box office.
I would wager that most of the audience had seen it before. One lady in the foyer recalled seeing the show 50 years ago and another revealed she was christened “Julie” because of the film. But I’m the sad individual who had never seen “The Sound of Music”; certainly not all the way through. So, was it worth waiting for? Definitely.
I was particularly left in awe of the writers Rogers and Hammerstein (who didn’t live to see his international success). They clearly tuned into a remarkably rich vein of public desire to produce a dozen songs – set in such a succinct story – that have engaged the entire planet for so long.
Much of the fifties feel of the show shines through – and there are things they’d never get away with today. The ponderous, ecclesiastical opening – chanting nuns on a darkened stage indulging in tired gestures – would have Las Vegas impresarios demanding a re-write. Whilst the finale recycles the song used at the end of Act One; with Mother Abbess (Jan Hartley) singing alone whilst the Alps fade to reveal a static tableau of the Von Trapp family on a wooden stairs. (But then ‘Climb Every Staircase’ just wouldn’t have the same ring.)
The show in between more than makes up for this. ‘Do-Re-Mi’ is the starting gun; and it was interesting to see how the songs in context signpost the story. The more famous ones are lightly thrashed; the less famous are appealingly curious. All pass the test of time with ease.
The performances are faultless. Lucy O’Byrne banishes ‘butter-wouldn’t-melt’ Miss Andrews in moments. Here is a spirited novice who really does waltz to Mass;p wearing curlers under her wimple and her habit above the ankle. The title song is upon us in minutes and she gives it full reverence; more wonder than wellie. Andrew Lancels’ Captain is just humane enough to be liked and Duncan Smith’s fat, affable Max Detweiler warmly illustrates how men of position rather than principal survived the Nazis.
The children are absolutely excellent. Alana Willis must have had every grandparent weeping with her wide-eyed, foot-sure portrayal of the youngest Von Trapp…destined forever to be last in line.
But the star turn has to be the duet between Liesl (Annie Holland) and her telegram boy beau, Rolf (Kane Verrall). Their ‘Sixteen Going On Seventeen’ duet evolves effortlessly in a breathtaking dance routine – matching anything the Royal Ballet brought us last month. Later, when his head is turned by the Third Reich, the hopeless of their situation is beautifully portrayed by gentle gestures and fleeting glances. In a show of few surprises, here was a truly magic moment.
Of course, I knew I was attending a ritual and, of course, the show is as safe as houses; but the sincerity certainly coaxed considerable sentimentality of this wizened observer.
At the curtain call, Lucy O’Bryne thoroughly deserved her universal standing ovation. And it has to be remembered, an ovation on a Wednesday is worth two on a Friday.
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