Those unfamiliar with the stage version will find a couple of ‘new’ songs, old favourites in different places and key dialogue coming from unexpected characters. My Favourite Things, for example, takes place before Maria leaves the abbey and is a duet with Mother Superior (Marilyn Hill Smith). But these differences are nice and stop the show becoming a bit of a tribute act.
Connie Fisher, reported to have been getting over flu, gives a sweet performance as Maria, the flighty trainee nun sent to work as a governess, very much in the Julie Andrews mould. It did sound at times, particularly near the end, as if she was protecting her voice somewhat and it would be a pity if she was to suffer more vocal problems.
It is the entrance of the von Trapp children that elevates the show. Their charming performances are heart-meltingly good, and the choreography (by Arlene Phillips, natch) is clean and beautifully executed during numbers like The Lonely Goatherd, which is great fun.
Michael Praed, all chiselled of jaw and sternly be-suited, looks the part and is a class act as Captain von Trapp, and gives his best when the character is under the most emotional strain. However, it would have been nice to have seen Edelweiss be given more prominence, as the concert scene (which looked superb) seemed to be in a rush to get to the end.
Actually, the show is all a bit surprisingly jaunty despite the underlying heavy themes, and whizzes by where sometimes it would benefit from slowing down and building up more atmosphere. Again, it’s shortcomings in this regard only serve as a reminder of the tension and intensity of the classic film. It’s two-thirds of the way through before anyone gets round to mentioning Hitler aloud instead of just alluding to some vague threat. The Captain’s engagement to Baroness Schraeder (Jacinta Mulcahy) is called off not because she realises his growing feelings for Maria, as in the film, but with a clear-cut agree-to-disagree about joining the Nazis that neatly writes out the character without conflict.
There are a lot of truly excellent things about this production. Under musical director Jonathan Gill the score is sublime, the set design is breathtaking and lighting is really second to none. The Technicolor-style way the sun rises and sets over the mountain backdrop is a great device that adds a sense of time and makes for a dramatic and memorable closing scene.
Picture by Catherine Ashmore