The Sound of Music
Andrew Lloyd Webber, David Ian, John Frost & The Really Useful Group
QPAC Lyric Theatre
March 17- May 1 2016
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
When it was announced that The Sound of Music would stop by Brisbane, I was excited to see what could be done with it. I was ready to be impressed by a new, glossy, Palladium-famed and Frostified take on one of the world’s favourite musicals.
This revival is everything you might expect of a glossy musical blockbuster.
Amy Lehpamer is a lovely, strong, smiling Maria, but there is little connection between she and Cameron Daddo as Captain Von Trapp, although he is certainly lovely, authoritative enough and gentle in turns; I actually adore him. But The Sound of Music is essentially a love story that insists on shining through its dark political setting, and in this version we barely feel any sense of the complex love triangle between Maria, Georg, and Elsa Schraeder, played by Marina Prior, as only Prior can play her. She is regally and richly mischievous, elegant and gracious, and not a bit nasty. Offering a masterclass in making even the smallest role memorable, Prior is the very model of a leading lady, and I suspect if she were not so polite she might outshine Lehpamer in a couple of places. And suddenly it occurs to me that perhaps what I find lacking in Lehpamer is that elusive quality of capturing in a role something so captivating that we’re not even sure afterwards what made the performance so spectacular. It’s certainly a spectacularly executed performance (Lehpamer’s voice is superb! And her vowels!), but somehow it’s without the substance we need to see to be able to connect with her. In a rehearsal we’d say she’s “phoned it in” and demand the stakes be raised before opening night, despite seeing the blood, sweat and tears already evident behind a polished performance. On opening night in Brisbane I wasn’t convinced she was there to WIN.
I adore two distinct moments in this production, and whether these are the actors’ choices or the director’s guidance we’ll never know for sure. When Maria returns from the abbey she is greeted by the children and then left to face the Captain. Liesl shoos the children offstage and turns for a fleeting moment to tell Maria in clear solidarity, “We’ll be in the nursery.” This brings tears to my eyes and reminds me of the final scene in Labyrinth – “Should you need us…” – and also, that my nearly-ten-year-old-going-on-twenty-year-old is already this heart smart. Given the same circumstances she would do exactly the same thing, reassuring me in a single glance that she’s with me even when she’s not with me. The other poignant moment (you’d think there’d be many more but no, not really, it’s all rather too rushed to have the same impact), is when Captain Von Trapp stumbles over the reprise of Edelweiss and Kurt, not Maria (as we like to recall from the movie) steps up to sing with his father. How strange that these moments are so few. One has to wonder what happened in between the eagerness to take on the project and the pressure to complete it…
The children’s scenes are all absolutely gorgeous, filled with pure joy, and overflowing with cuteness. On opening night they are Luke Harrison (Friedrich), Sophie Moman (Louisa), Sam Green (Kurt), Emma Cobb (Brigitta), Amelia Ayris (Marta) and Dana Weaver (Gretl). They are beautifully rehearsed by Children’s Director, Jonny Bowles, who has wisely allowed individual personalities to shine through, which gives the newly choreographed Do-Re-Mi a vibrant new look and feel (it’s been lifted to Supercalifragilistic level!). Given that the children are re-cast in each city, Bowles has an extraordinary gift.
Stefanie Jones, once she settles into the role of Leisl, is delightful and for me she’s the real star here, with a voice that will continue to strengthen and sweeten, and with the acting chops to earn more extensive stage and screen time. The famous duet with Rolf is rushed, but perhaps the pace represents the exuberance and excitement of young love. We miss the romance of the gazebo setting, but the choreography is flashy and swirly enough, and well executed by Jones and WAAPA graduate, Du Toit Bredenkamp, in an impressive professional stage debut.
So much is quite different in the stage version, so if you’re a loyal fan of the film you might be surprised with some of the song placements. I don’t think The Lonely Goatherd has ever worked as well as A Few of My Favourite Things during the storm scene; it’s much better played out in full for the amusement of the party guests. On the other hand, Something Good in place of Ordinary Couple is perfect, and we finally enjoy half a moment of the love that develops between Georg and Maria.
As Mother Abbess, Jacqueline Dark’s powerful rendition of Climb Ev’ry Mountain brings the house down but A Few of My Favourite Things, sung earlier with Maria in the stage version, does little to affirm the bond between them. The nuns are lovely, each establishing their individual characters from the outset (Johanna Allen is Sister Sophia, Eleanor Blythman is Sister Margaretta & Dominica Matthews is Sister Berthe). Following the suitably sombre entrance of the nuns through the Lyric Theatre aisles, How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? is a light-hearted delight, with everyone narrowly avoiding overplaying everything. Lorraine Bayly is a sweet Frau Schmidt and David James a comical standout, just gorgeous, as Max Detweiler.
You might be thinking I must loathe The Sound of Music but nothing could be further from the truth. When I sang Sister Sophia in a Sunshine Coast production, my sisters played Leisl and Brigitta, and it was so special to do a show together. We’d grown up watching – LOVING – the film, most often seeing it only up until the end of the Salzburg festival concert, when Mum would send us to bed because, “It’s too late and it gets too awful now.” It really does get awful, but this production lacks the same menace once the swastikas are revealed. The moment in which they are revealed is actually fantastically frightening. Suddenly we’re constrained in the space by German soldiers and the “black spider”. However, once we feel the immediate impact of this beat change (and believe me, it’s a chilling feeling of absolute horror, akin to the Tomorrow Belongs To Me moment in Cabaret), the story moves a little too swiftly and without enough depth and darkness to keep us invested.
This appears to be the general rule for the show i.e. a fast show’s a good show. Director, Jeremy Sams and Associate Director for Australia, Gavin Mitford, with Musical Director, Luke Hunter, have sustained a pace so swift that the poignant moments are kept to a minimum.
I’m disappointed that I don’t feel overly concerned for the family. It appears to be too easy to simply walk out of Austria and into Switzerland! This aspect of the design doesn’t help our imaginations. We watch the family traipse over the same rolling hilltops that Maria started on (on her knees?! Whatever for? Did I imagine that?), in the title number.
This pretty looking, perfectly polished production is nostalgic without tugging at heart strings, and sentimental without making the sensational mark.
New musical theatre audiences will likely be blown away by the talent and scale of the production. No, it’s not Palladium-sized but like all the other large scale revivals, this pared back touring version fits neatly into the Lyric. Authentically styled costumes and set by Robert Jones (the abbey and the interior of the Von Trapp house are at once imposing and perfectly contrasting designs), and atmospheric lighting by Mark Henderson will surely satisfy the most discerning viewer. But will they be moved? Will they get the enormity of the story? Do they need to? I think they must.
Why do we retell our stories if not to share the lessons we wish we’d learned?
The Sound of Music is iconic and this production is certainly worth a look, but it may not leave the lasting impression you expect it to.