The Sound of Music may be one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s best-loved musicals. In the sixty years since it debuted it has had countless revivals, cross-country tours, an iconic film adaptation, and numerous amateur offerings that are a testament to the enchanting nature of this true story set against a backdrop of the Nazi’s invasion of Austria.
With an impressive set, delightful costuming and an almost vignette style of lighting the visuals of this production are stunning. There are some beautiful tableau moments throughout that you could imagine captured as snapshots to flick through an album of the Von Trapp family’s adventures with Maria, and the depiction of the final scene of the show is goosebump-worthy. Despite this, a lot of the show feels very static, as if confined to those tableaus. When choreographer Bill Deamer is allowed to shine; such as in the show-stopping Sixteen Going on Seventeen; the dancing is playful, captivating and expressive. However numbers like No Way To Stop It, although not lacking in energy, suffer from lack of choreography when there is plenty of opportunity for it.
One of the greatest disappointments for this show is the nuns chorus. The choral numbers scattered through the show can be stunning, with their complicated harmonies and overall impressive sound when performed live. The choice to have these sections pre-recorded and played over speakers is regrettable. While a touring production may not be able to build a large choir of nuns, when those on stage are given the opportunity to sing without a backing track they produce an excellent, powerful vocal performance. It just isn’t needed, and it detracts significantly from the show. A similar problem is encountered with some of the Von Trapp children’s songs, when harmonies suddenly appear from adults singing in the wings rather than allowing the talented children on stage to authentically perform. There is little doubt that the children are capable of singing those harmonies themselves, and it feels like they simply aren’t trusted with them.
There are some triumphant performances in the cast. Megan Llewellyn’s Mother Abbess is bubbly and fun, and her operatic renditions of Climb Ev’ry Mountain were exceptional. Andrew Lancel is a believable Captain, with an authentic sternness that gives way to a softer father figure. Clelia Murphy’s Elsa Schraeder is hilarious, and she brings some excellent comic relief to the stage, which has the audience eating out of her hand despite having by far the weakest vocals of the company. Howard Samuels’ Max is equally comedic as he schmoozes around the stage, but I particularly liked the framing of his last moments on stage at the Salzburg concert when you get to see a side of Max that truly cares about his friends beyond their money and influence. Nicole Farrar is a beautiful Liesl, performing an energetic and difficult dance routine while singing one of the most difficult songs in the show, and really nails the sweet naivety that defines such a character. The children are all appropriately cast and work well together, with Gretl and Brigitta certainly stealing the audience’s hearts if not the whole show.
Emilie Fleming is a lovely Maria, and her effortless singing soars through the auditorium. She does an excellent job of the clipped wartime accent and seems to have a good rapport with the children. However at times she could do with being more gutsy, or just having something more interesting about her portrayal; this isn’t a Maria that you can believe is really a “problem” to the other nuns with climbing trees and being silly; she is very reserved and passive for most of the show, and sadly has little chemistry with the Captain. Whether it was a directing choice or not, most of the interaction between Maria and the Captain is done at arms length avoiding eye contact, and their romance never really becomes believable.
All in all this is an enjoyable show with some spectacular moments that make it worth the watch. However certain decisions made by the experienced creative team cause it to miss the mark in crucial areas.
The Sound of Music plays at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until the 7th of March, and will then continue its tour to Woking, Milton Keynes, Crawley, Eastbourne, Sheffield, and Chester until the 18th of April.