It must be a double-edged sword for actors landing the parts of Max Detweiler or Elsa Schraeder in The Sound of Music. On the one hand you’re no longer “resting”, on the other hand you’re saddled with the two songs that were cut when it became the classic 1965 film and you’re faced with an audience scratching their heads and muttering WTF?
Well, maybe that’s not quite true. The crowd at The New Wimbledon Theatre last night probably don’t know that expression. This elderly audience made Phil feel he was a mere slip of a lad.
And he was a mere slip when he first saw the film and cried tears of happiness as (SPOILER ALERT) Maria Rainer married Captain von Trapp. 50 years on Phil welled up again, not at the wedding but when the strict Captain melts as he listens to his seven kiddiewinks warbling the title song and joins in the singing.
Anyway, unless you’ve been hiding away in a nunnery or forbidden from watching TV at Christmas, you’ll no doubt know that the plot, which concerns a perky Austrian novice nun who gets sent away from the convent for singing too much and is dispatched to look after the kiddies of a rich military widower just as the country is about to be annexed by Germany.
Will the Captain get his family out of Austria and away from the Nazis? (ANOTHER SPOILER ALERT) This is the first time Phil noticed how many times both Maria and the Captain inform each other (and the audience) about how well they know the mountains, setting us up for their unlikely escape over the Alps with 7 kids in tow (in reality they strolled to the station and took a train to Italy).
But the songs by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II (book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse) are fantastic, even if “I Have Confidence” (written for the film) doesn’t appear, the charming “Something Good” (also written for the film) does. But they’re all performed with such vocal clarity throughout, every word can be heard as clear as the convent bell. Other West End musicals should listen and learn. Though it does take a while to adjust to Danielle Hope‘s slightly over-enunciated Maria, she’s a very likeable lead and sings so well and with more than a nod to Dame Julie you soon adjust to her.
Steven Houghton (one of Sally Webster’s ex boyfriends in Corrie) gives good Captain and a moving rendition of “Edelweiss”. Sarah Soetaert and Howard Samuels as Elsa and Max make a good fist of the unfamiliar songs and the kids are delightful, funny and sing and dance like fearless old pros.
Jan Hartley‘s Mother Abbess makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up and ovate with her “Climb Every Mountain” and the other nuns harmonise with precision and rather deliciously are called upon to do their own furniture removals too.
Despite being a touring production (director Martin Connor, producer Bill Kenwright) it doesn’t look cheap. The cast is big, the sets and costumes (Gary McCann) surprisingly well-appointed (including a rather glitzy sweeping staircase in the von Trapp household) and the orchestra produces a big sound, although sometimes enhanced (musical Viagra?) when an organ swells.
When Phil’s eyes weren’t prickling he was delighted by a slew of camp moments: several from Max, many from Rolf (Luke George) and the Captain’s line “I admit it would be nice to have a ship under me again”. Then there’s the hurdle of the iconic “What is it you can’t face?” which is navigated with such delicacy that there were no discrete chortles. Apart from in Phil’s vicinity, of course.
Yes, Phil was delighted. So delighted in fact he can forgive them Maria’s terrible wig. Ah well, there had to be something didn’t there?