Sunday, April 20, 2008

A visit to The Sound Of Music

Apparently prior to launching the search to find a Maria on BBC, the producers had been trying to get Scarlett Johansson for the lead role. When Scarlett turned it down, they opted for a national casting call instead, which some artistic directors might consider a free marketing campaign.

It hasn’t been plain sailing though as not long after the show opened, Connie Fisher didn’t seem to cope with the gruelling schedule and the actor playing the Captain also withdrew after two performances. A permanent understudy was found for Connie Fisher for two nights per week and the Captain has gone through regular changes in the last year. Recently Connie Fisher was replaced by Summer Strallen from Hollyoaks. So with this background, I wondered whether the musical still had legs when I was invited to review it by the producers.

The opening is quite special. It had to be. The film opens with Julie Andrews running across the hillside with a helicopter swooping over while she sings bellows “The Hills Are Alive......”, so following that on stage was going to be a tall order. Enter the creative geniuses of the West End theatre who have created a moving hillside which has Maria singing while lying on her back, though she is vertical, and the helicopter view is created by a direct beam of light through a gauze curtain. Clever.

Summer Strallen has the look, the style and the depth of character to convince her audience that she is Julie Andrews and delivers her opening songs with the right emphasis and quality. A great opening scene is followed soon after by some great young acting talent as the children come downstairs to introduce themselves to Maria, to the tones of the Captain’s whistle. I’m not as convinced with the Captain, who reminds me more of a Prince Charles than Christopher Plummer, but Australian actor Simon Burke gets over that quickly when he sings and perfects the emotional connection with the children, who open their mouths in disbelief that their tough father actually has a heart. Touching.

I was very impressed with Amy Lennox who played the 16-year old Liesl. It’s Amy’s West End debut after graduating from Guildford School of Acting, with First Class Honours, no less, and it was very clear that this performance will assure her place in many many more musicals in the future. The character of Liesl required a mix of adult attitude with teenage precociousness, and she carried this off in every line, in every reaction and in each emotional expression. Superb.

Finally, a big applause to the big vocals of Margaret Preece who stepped up to the mark as The Mother Abbess. This is a massive role for a singer and only the best need audition. It’s abundantly clear why that is, when the top note of Climb Every Mountain is reached and the sound resonates around the theatre like a force of gravity that stuns the audience. Fantastic.

So, all in all an enjoyable evening and definitely worth going just to see some of the future talent of the West End.
Booking until: Oct 18, 2008
Monday, Wednesday - Saturday evenings at 7.30pm, Tuesday evenings at 7pm, Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2.30pm Running time: 2hrs 35

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