Plenty of charm and delightful performances
By Caitlin McGrane
When I was growing up, there was a dodgy VHS copy of The Sound of Music on constant rotation; my sister and I would watch it endlessly and my primary school even did a choral concert of all the songs. Suffice to say we were big fans. The London Palladium version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic currently showing at The Regent Theatre on Collins Street delighted the audience on opening night with its innovative take on the original musical. It is no small undertaking to adapt such a timeless and well-loved family favourite, but director Jeremy Sams, along with the cast, production crew and creatives behind this incarnation have certainly attempted to breathe new life into the story.
As we all probably know, the musical tells the story of the von Trapp family singers – a young Austrian trainee nun, Maria (Amy Lehpalmer) is sent to nanny the seven Von Trapp children whose lonely widower father Captain Georg von Trapp (Cameron Daddo) runs his house like one of his navy ships. Lehpalmer and Daddo both inhabited their roles well, however, it would have been good to see some on-stage chemistry between the two prior to the surprising declaration that they were in love. When their feelings for each other were revealed I couldn’t help but feel like it was expressed in blunt, rushed exposition; it would have been nice if they could have taken a little more time to show us their blossoming romance. That said, Lehpalmer really made the role of Maria her own by drawing enough on Julie Andrews’ lovable doofus for recognition, but not so much as to become tiresome or repetitive. Daddo made an excellent and empathetic Captain von Trapp, although his voice sounded slightly weak from where I was sitting.
Without the seven von Trapp children however, Lehpalmer and Daddo would have been totally lost. Liesl (Stefanie Jones), Friedrich (Alexander Glenk), Louisa (Darcy McGrath), Kurt (Beaumont Farrell), Brigitta (Karina Thompson), Marta (Ruby Moore) and Gretl (Heidi Sprague) were an absolute delight to watch. They were all consummate professional performers who impressed with their vocal range, naturalism and command of the stage. Given that each child will be played by several actors, the ensemble that performed on opening night really did do a terrific job – they harmonised well and with such impossible smoothness that I’d happily watch them all over again performing their ‘Goodnight’ song.
Under the musical direction of Luke Hunter, the songs were well performed and, despite my love for the film version, having a live orchestra really brought all the songs to life for me, because it made for a truly immersive experience. The magnificent Marina Prior was great as Baroness Schraeder, although she was slightly more sympathetic than her cinematic counterpart. Uncle Max (David James) was great fun but almost seemed to be in different play, which was bizarre but not unwelcome. Mother Abbess (Jacqueline Dark) was absolutely astonishing and her sweeping operatic voice ensured that each time she appeared we were guaranteed an aural treat. Rolf was inhabited perfectly by Du Toit Brendenkamp who conjured fantastic pathos. In the stage version, the von Trapp house help Frau Schmidt (Lorraine Bayly) and Franz (John Hannan) have far too much to do and keep appearing to explain the plot to the audience, which was unbelievably tiresome. On the whole though, the rest of the cast did well supporting the nine main members of the von Trapp family.
Lighting (Mark Henderson), set and costumes (Robert Jones) were all terrifically well executed, and I think in a production of this scale it would probably be a bad sign if I had noticed them too much. Choreography by Arlene Phillips was tremendous – there was a balletic quality to the movement that more or less kept the pace up throughout the show.
The only area where I felt the production fell down was some of the script’s outdated attempts at comedy. Now I’m not necessarily representative of all adults, but when I’m attending The Sound of Music I don’t require ‘adult’ jokes to keep me entertained. Despite this production being based upon the 2006 London revival, there were a couple of one-liners about the Nazis that didn’t quite land because they now feel pretty unnecessary and just not funny. In addition, and I’m becoming quite tired of saying this, but it is not acceptable in my opinion to use sex work as a punchline. Particularly in what is being advertised as a ‘family friendly’ show because it perpetuates the idea that sex workers are worthy of derision. When Franz says that Frau Schmidt ‘could have made a lot of money’ in the Navy the whole Regent Theatre audience audibly gasped and barely anyone laughed. It is deeply dehumanising, as well as profoundly unfunny, and I feel these kinds of outdated lines needed to be removed.
In the end though, despite all my reservations I came away with a huge smile on my face. The wonderful naffness of the script, in conjunction with really energetic and committed performances from the main cast combined to give the audience some really great light entertainment. By no means groundbreaking or profound – but not all theatre need be – this was a perfectly satisfactory way to spend an evening with my mum.
The Sound of Music is now showing at the Regent Theatre. Melbourne show details are below, or head to the tour website for more information about other cities.
Venue: Regent Theatre, Melbourne
Season: From 13 May 2016
Performance Times: Tues–Sat 7.30pm, Wed 1.00pm, Sat 2.00pm, Sun 12noon and 5.30pm
Price: Tickets from $79.90*
Bookings: soundofmusictour.com.au or phone 1300 111 011