It’s a shock to think that The Sound of Music first appeared on screen more than 50 years ago. Where does the time go?
Julie Andrews has long since got out of the habit of playing the trainee nun, Maria, who climbs every mountain and delivers a holy host of Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes, but Lucy O’Byrne, who joins the 2016 stage tour, proves a divine replacement.
The Sound of Music, surely one of producer, Bill Kenwright’s, best investments, opened its latest tour at The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury, last night to a standing ovation.
This exquisitely-sung musical is a masterclass in perfection, blessed with a sensational cast, stunning sets, unforgettable songs and, well, yes, a saccharine-soaked (though factual) story.
Back in the mists of time my mother was obsessed with the 1965 film, which starred Chrstopher Plummer and a certain wholesome English lovely who was a neighbour of ours. I was dragged along, time and again, to see it.
I wouldn’t say that it left me traumatised for life but I was shocked to discover last night that I still remembered every word of every song.
There’s no denying that the dialogue hasn’t worn well. It’s so sickly sweet that there are times when last night’s audience were tittering instead of sighing.
But The Sound of Music has a worldwide fanbase (primarily women, it has to be said) and they adore it, every do-re-mi, every petal of Edelweiss and every view of those scenic Austrian mountains.
This new production has a few surprises. The largely inexperienced O’Byrne, a runner-up from The Voice BBC TV series, is spectacularly good as Maria. Her singing is positively angelic and she delivers a confident turn as the fearless nun sent to act as a governess to seven headstrong children.
Former Coronation Street rotter, Andrew Lancel, makes his musical début in The Sound of Music and you have to ask yourself why it’s taken him so long. Lancel, recently on stage playing Brian Clough in The Damned United, has a superb and powerful voice which is a delight to listen to.
It is also refreshing to find juvenile actors who not only act their roles beautifully but are also heavenly singers.
There are three teams of six children playing the Von Trapp children, led by adult actress Annie Holland as the eldest, Liesl. On opening night we watched Kai Cooper (Friedrich); Grace Fox (Louisa); Edward Hooper (Kurt); Ivy Pratt (Brigitta); Sylvie Erskine (Marta); and the tiniest poppet Talia Etherington as the endearing Gretl.
Each were delightful – Not too stagey, not too sweet, confident in their musical numbers and wonderfully engaging as the world’s most famous singing family.
Mention must be made of Jan Hartley’s outstanding turn as the Mother Abbess. The opera-trained performer doesn’t have a lot to do – except look saintly – so she sinfully steals the limelight with a belting, show-stopping rendition of Climb Ev’ry Mountain. It really is exemplary.
Gary McCann’s set design is impressive with a cloistered convent and book-lined study giving way to a sweeping staircase and mountain vista for the luxurious Von Trapp family home.
Overall this is a magnificent musical. I can’t rate it higher. At The Waterside until tomorrow.