Perhaps it is the same everywhere, but The Sound of Music seems to have always held a special place in the hearts of Melbourne theatregoers. This polished production is set to continue the love affair, while introducing a new generation to the rose coloured optimism of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic.
Originating at the London Palladium in 2006, this touring production features highly attractive designs but is somewhat dwarfed in the cavernous Regent Theatre. The grandeur of the auditorium complements the work beautifully; as nuns process down the aisles we could be in an actual cathedral. The intimacy and impact of the story, however, are compromised by the sheer depth of the seating areas.
Robert Jones’ design allows scenic elements to glide in and out, achieving a cinematic flow. The visual appeal is further enhanced by the rich glow, and carefully chosen shadow, of Mark Henderson’s lighting design.
Combining the best of the original stage musical and the beloved 1965 movie, director Jeremy Sams has presented a version that is both familiar to lovers of the film but also slightly less saccharine. There is even a new dramatic fate for loveable old Max. If there is one alteration the film made that should have overridden the original book, it is the placement of “My Favourite Things,” which makes infinitely more sense in the thunderstorm scene.
Music direction, by Luke Hunter, remains at a superb standard.
While there is a new set of von Trapp children for Melbourne, the adult cast members have had the Sydney and Brisbane seasons to hone their performances, and the experience shows. Associate director Gavin Mitford has ensured there is a strong sense of spontaneity despite the familiarity of the plot. Only the hardest of hearts will go untouched when each of the children first approach and hug their father in their own individual way.
A crucial sequence that has been improved is the act two turnaround of the Captain’s romantic attention. The fact that the Captain parts with Elsa and takes up with Maria in the one scene brings a high risk of corniness. Romantic tension bubbles away merrily during the superb performance of the dance the “Ländler” in act one. In act two, the humility and tenderness of the returned Maria, in another plain borrowed dress, is contrasted with the superficial vanity and avarice of Elsa, who wants to know where the property line extends to. The Captain’s growing disdain is slowly telegraphed through the lyrics and choreography of “No Way To Stop It” (a significant song title), and then the final stage positions of the song, the unspoken tension at Maria’s return and Elsa’s pained but dignified exit all lead seamlessly to the outpouring of affection between the Captain and Maria.
Sharing the roles with two other sets of actors, the six youngest children were played on opening night by Alexander Glenk (Friedrich), Darcy McGrath (Louisa), Beaumont Farrell (Kurt), Karina Thompson (Brigitta), Ruby Moore (Marta) and Heidi Sprague (Gretl). Lovely young triple threat Stefanie Jones remains as eldest daughter Liesl. The children deservedly bring down the house with “Do Re Mi.” While it is almost impossible to pick highlights from this talented troupe, Farrell has a particularly touching, beautifully sung moment in “Edelweiss” when Kurt steps forward to sing with his father, who has been overcome by emotion.
Returning to her home state, Amy Lehpamer is set to clearly show Melbourne all the ways she has so thoroughly fulfilled the potential she has been demonstrating for the past few years. Giving a fresh, totally engaging performance as Maria, Lehpamer is funny, strident, vulnerable, touching, giddy, forthright and tender. She sings with an authoritative, expressive chest voice and clear, ringing high notes. This is a true star turn that will deservedly win Lehpamer legions of fans.
Well known on Melbourne’s State Theatre stage, versatile artist Jacqueline Dark crosses over from opera to music theatre to play a wonderfully warm-hearted Mother Abbess. Occasionally this role is played by a much older singer, but Dark, well and truly in her prime, lifts the roof in the act one finale, “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”
The later incarnation of the Captain as a softer, loving father comes naturally to Cameron Daddo, and he has worked to find new strength in the earlier scenes where the Captain harbours bitterness and self-pity. Overall, Daddo has enhanced the character’s arc, adding to the impact of the role.
While the role of Elsa is usually played with a far more brittle, haughty, unlikeable edge, highly capable actress Marina Prior continues to bring out a softer, gentler aspect of the role. While this slightly undermines the clarity of the Captain’s choice, Prior has found enough vacuous conceit in the role to make her a sufficient contrast to Maria. David James keeps self-serving arts administrator Max Detweiler just a whisker shy of camp by emphasising the character’s role in the confusion and anger surrounding the implementation of the new regime.
Whether reliving childhood memories or introducing a new generation, audience members will appreciate this production of The Sound of Music.
The Sound of Music plays at Regent Theatre, Melbourne until 17 July 2016, before continuing to Adelaide and Perth.
Man in Chair reviewed the Sydney premiere of The Sound of Music.
Man in Chair published a photo preview of the Sydney season.
Photos: James Morgan (#5 Simon Parris)