It’s been 56 years since Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s theatrical depiction of The Story of the Trapp Family Singers was unveiled to its first Broadway audience.
Since that time, The Sound of Music has gone on to become a worldwide phenomenon, thanks in large part to the 1965 film starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.
Several generations have come to love the story of a novice who becomes a governess to the seven children of a retired naval officer, and many Australians have had the opportunity to see a number of stage versions of the musical on our own stages since 1961.
So the question that must be asked is what makes the latest outing of The Sound of Music worth considering. On this occasion, the production is a version created by Andrew Lloyd Webber that first opened in London in 2006. Lloyd Webber had wanted for years to produce the musical, and was particularly adamant about casting a young Maria who, in his words, “you really do believe climbs a tree and scrapes her knees.”
Lloyd Webber’s ‘young Maria’ wasn’t the only refreshed aspect of the production. He and director Jeremy Sams were determined not to stage a version of the movie and instead opted to largely follow the original theatre script. The pair also made some substitutions to the score, still using tracks written by Rodgers and Hammerstein.
That production ran for two and a half years on the West End, and will now make its way around Australia over the next 12 months.
From the outset, there’s a freshness about Lloyd Webber’s The Sound of Music. The classic moments that have won audiences over for five decades are all there, but they’re packaged in a production that looks distinctly like a musical theatre offering of today. Robert Jones deserves significant acknowledgment for his wonderful set and costumes.
But the best chance that this production has in winning over the next generation of theatre-goers comes via the superb cast that’s been assembled. Amy Lehpamer is exceptional as Maria. It’s always a tough task for an actor to take on an iconic character and simultaneously achieve a portrayal that is familiar and recognisable, but also shows the actor’s efforts to put their own stamp on the character. Lehpamer achieves precisely that. Her Maria is wide-eyed, kind and imaginative, but her delivery also shows her wonderful comedic timing. Vocally, she is pitch perfect from start to finish, handling Maria’s more challenging soprano moments with great skill and ease. Musical theatre audiences have had the opportunity to see Lehpamer showcase her outstanding talent in a number of musicals in recent years (including Rock of Ages, Once and The Rocky Horror Picture Show). Her portrayal of Maria von Trapp should see her finally receive the widespread recognition and acclaim she thoroughly deserves.
As Mother Abbess, Jacqueline Dark is also a remarkable standout. Her theatre credits are largely in the opera space, and her appearance here evokes huge appreciation for her decision to take a break momentarily from that work. A stunningly delivered ‘Climb every mountain’ is so awe-inspiring, it just about sent this reviewer off to interval with a renewed conviction for conquering their own battles. It’s fortunate we’re given more than one opportunity to witness Dark’s superior vocal skills with this song throughout the evening.
Dark is wonderfully supported in some of the key moments in Nonnberg Abbey by Johanna Allen, Eleanor Blythman and Dominica Matthews. There is some wonderful harmonisation during ‘Maria’.
In the role of Baroness Schraeder, Marina Prior shows us she remains the consummate professional we’ve come to know on stage over the past 30 years. Her lines are impeccably delivered and her characterisation never wavers for a second. Prior has great chemistry onstage with co-star David James, who is excellent as spineless ‘yes man’, Max Detweiler. And Lorraine Bayly makes the most of the very few opportunities she has to shine as Frau Schmidt.
Cameron Daddo looks perfect stepping into the shoes of Captain Georg von Trapp. But while he succeeds in conveying von Trapp’s warmer side, his characterisation lacks the captain’s militaristic traits. He needs more power behind his performance to completely convince as an authoritative figure, who compels conformance from his children and intimidates those around him.
Elsewhere, Stefanie Jones proves she’s one to watch with a convincing portrayal of Liesl, which allows her to demonstrate her impressive vocal chops. Her six younger siblings in the cast are hugely endearing and entertaining in bringing to life each of their characters.
On the whole, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Sound of Music is a beautifully crafted production that serves to remind us precisely why Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s magnificent score should remain alive. The show is loaded with significant themes for audience members of all ages (especially now, in a time when the world once again has to ask itself how it will deal with sinister forces whose ideologies threaten everyone in its path). Truly revitalised, care of Lloyd Webber’s refreshed production and an impressive cast, The Sound of Music is one for the family this holiday season.