Saturday, 10 October 2009

Theatre: The Sound of Music: UK tour 2009

For about a year, my best friend had been promising me a trip to see The Sound of Music if we could find a localish production. I thought it unlikely because of something to do with the licence: it was being performed professionally in London's West End, so I thought amateur companies wouldn't be allowed to put it on - my dramatic society just about got away with Oliver! last year.

But we were saved a trip up to the Capital when The Sound of Music came to us, or as close to "us" as you can expect, doing a run at Southampton's Mayflower Theatre. As it was running for a month, the end of September until the end of October, I decided to make a birthday trip of it.

Before, I had only seen the film, so wasn't quite sure what to expect. The opening certainly wasn't expected - instead of Maria whirling around the hills with the title number, the nuns were wandering around the stage singing nun-ish things in latin with beautiful harmonies.

Alas, after that opening, the song, "The Sound of Music" didn't quite live up to expectations. Connie Fisher ('er off the telly) had a very sweet, pure voice, and from here on I have no problems with her, or the show at all, but after the harmonies of the nuns' song, it didn't quite seem like the big theatrical number that it is in the film. After all, it is a solo, and Connie Fisher isn't Agnes from Terry Pratchett's Maskerade - she cannot sing in harmony with herself. I also had a fear, at first, that her voice wouldn't carry over the orchestra. This was only a momentary worry, I stress, and my only other criticism of the show is that it was over too soon.

Connie is absolutely lovely as Maria. She plays the part very much like Julie Andrews in the film, with, if it's possible, more childlike energy and mischief. I found her very believable as the devout, well-meaning novice who just can't stay out of trouble.

Michael Praed played Captain Von Trapp, and to him, too, could be applied the overused adjective "lovely." There is more of "the political stuff" in the stage show than in the film, and here we really got to see the strength of Von Trapp's character as he stood up to Max and Baroness (here only called "Frau") Schraeder's advice to keep his head down, compromise and not to anger the Nazis. It is made explicit here that it is Frau Schraeder's different political views that ultimately cause Von Trapp to call off the engagement. Yet we see a vulnerability to the Captain as he debates whether to accept the commission to keep his family safe, or to stand firm in his beliefs.

There was a wonderful scene around the "Something Good" song, where Maria talks about how dancing with Von Trapp was very different from the last time she had danced, as a very little girl. Von Trapp asked her, "When you were a very little girl, did a very little boy ever kiss you?" The horror and disgust as Maria replied "Ye-es." was brilliant, before Von Trapp assured her that that was different too.

The wedding scene was beautiful. Perhaps my favourite piece of music in the entire film and show is when she walks up the aisle while the nuns sing the reprise of "How do you solve a problem like Maria?" (answer: marry her off.) Inexplicably I found tears in my eyes at that point. Perhaps it was the absolute joy of the occasion, and the knowledge of what was so shortly to come. I was glad they didn't have the changing tone of bells as in the film, for that would have finished me off.

The most powerful part of the musical, for me, was when the scene changed from the Von Trapp family demonstrating to the Nazis what they are to sing at the music festival, to the festival itself (not here the escape attempt pushing the car as in the film.) The spotlights became brighter, and the stage adorned with banners of the swastika. Being in a theatre audience in actuality brought us considerably closer than any other setting or media to tell the story.

The supporting cast were all spot-on with their portrayals of the characters. Among the children, special mention should go to the little girl who played Gretl - she could not have been more than six or seven, but she was note-perfect, and her yodelling was superb. Unfortunately, I don't know which actress performed the day I went to see the musical, as the six younger children shared the roles between three actors per role, due to the work involved for school children.

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