Beautiful voices producing magical harmonies, great acting, stunning sets and a classic story – these were a few of my favourites things about the latest touring production of the iconic show The Sound of Music.
There can barely be a human being in the country who has not heard of The Sound of Music, or seen the movie, or can knock out an attempt at ‘The hills are alive...’.
I have sat through the 1965 film, starring the wonderful Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, countless times, or bits of it in between roast turkey dinners and games of Monopoly. It was required viewing in our house at Christmas – every Christmas!
I haven’t escaped the stage version either – by both professional and amateur groups. I have to admit to being bored during the previous West End production at the London Palladium, which attempted to slavishly recreate the film. Connie Fisher took the lead role after she won the TV talent show, How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?
So it was with a certain degree of trepidation that I accepted the challenge of reviewing this Bill Kenwright production, starring the amazingly talented Danielle Hope, who first came to prominence in a similar TV audition programme, Over The Rainbow, to find a new Dorothy for Wizard of Oz, in 2010.
At 23, she has matured immeasurably. Her acting was convincing and strong as Maria, her diction crystal clear and her singing perfect in such a demanding role that requires emotion and a huge range of notes and styles, from almost operatic to yodelling! Her renditions of the timeless classics Do-Re-Mi, The Lonely Goatherd, My Favourite Things and the title song were spot-on. She absolutely did Julie Andrews proud – and that is saying something.
It was a gently commanding performance that was received with a standing ovation from the Newcastle crowd – and restored my faith in the musical as a whole.
The plot is as familiar as the score – Maria is sent from an abbey in Salzburg, where she is studying to become a nun, to the luxurious home of Captain Georg von Trapp to be governess to his seven children. She wins over both the children and their father at a time when Nazi Germany is spreading its tentacles into Austria and the family have to escape its clutches.
Steven Houghton was suitably strict but soft at heart as retired naval officer von Trapp and grew into his vocal duties after a shaky start to give an emotional rendition of Edelweiss. The couple’s affirmation of their love for each other during Something Good sent shivers down the spine.
No Sound of Music show will be complete without with a parade of cute von Trapp kids and there was a lovely chemistry between Danielle’s Maria and the children and each delivered their lines and songs with an assured calmness. The team (from three) who performed for us were Harvey Mills (Friedrich), Jaynie Awcock (Louisa), Lucy Grant (Brigitta), Sam Hickman (Kurt), Jessie Popiewicz-Smith (Marta) and Amélie Rose Dekker (wee Gretl).
The oldest of the brood, 16-going-on-17 Liesel, was played with aplomb and style by Grace Chapman, whose stunning voice and movement that lived up to her name, marks her out as someone to watch in the future. Her relationship with Rolfe (Luke George), a telegram delivery boy, was touching and electric, their dance routine captivating.
The nuns were led by Mother Abbess, Jan Hartley, who brought the house down with powerful operatic versions of Climb Every Mountain at the end of each half. She was ably supported by the sisters, Jessica Sherman and Zoë Ann Bown as they created some beautifully harmonised choral pieces.
The streets of Newcastle were alive with the sound of music, as everyone emerged humming or singing their favourite tune.
I think it speaks volumes that my own 16-going-on-17 daughter was fully engaged and engrossed, even through a mammoth first half. The SoM legacy lives on.