Monday, December 28, 2015

The Sound of Music

Andrew Lloyd Webber, David Ian, John Frost and The Really Useful Group present, THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Music by Richard Rogers, Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, suggested by "The Trapp Family Singers" by Maria Augusta Trapp. At the Capitol Theatre, Sydney, 17 December - 22 February, 2016.

Alright, this is the first time that I have ever seen THE SOUND OF MUSIC, live. BUT, when I was 17 going on 18, my brother (a sibling only 18 months younger than I) had seen the movie and loved it. It was the paramount reason for NOT wanting to see it, if he loved it, I wouldn't, the internecine rivalry - we shared a bedroom - was acute. Besides, I otherwise reasoned, a film with children, nuns, Nazi's, scenery and lots of singing was not my cup of tea, and was a too obvious crowd pleaser - and it definitely was not 'cool' to have seen it, among my friends. I resisted and resisted for nearly a year - those were the days when a movie might run for years and years in the one cinema - ahhhhh.

However, one day I received my scholarship monies and skipped some lectures and went to the Mayfair Cinema in Castlereagh St, for a clandestine weekday afternoon screening - the Mayfair was where I had seen SOUTH PACIFIC, by-the-way, six times, when I was even younger, and LOVED it. I went to see Julie and the children, I have to confess, 16 times over a six month period - I can't remember if I passed those lecture classes I skipped! I have, of course, seen the movie many, many more times - it is in my DVD collection, of course - I've even been to the Sing-a-Long version at the State Theatre (not costumed, I have to confess). I am a fan. The Robert Wise movie is just so vivacious, exciting and plainly entertaining - and it is where I suddenly paid attention to Eleanor Parker and became a devotee! - who can ever forget on a balcony of the Von Trapp mansion, leaning on a balustrade, wistfully looking at a sunset, when the Baroness says to Georg, "Some where out there is a girl who will never be a nun" - or something like that - I just loved the complicated way she delivered it to rescue, in my eyes, the Baroness from being the 'baddie' in the love triangle with Georg and Maria, and to let us vent, single mindedly, all our 'hate' against Rolf Gruber (what a traitor), and Herr Zeller and his 'gangsters' for leading the Nazi possession of Austria.

So, at the opening night of the live performance of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, last week, the sheer vivacious energy of the audience in the foyer before the performance augured well for what was going to transpire. This is a touring production and the Set Design, by Robert Jones, has been tailored to accommodate those demands (not least, I guess, the cost of the tickets). The Costumes, also by Robert Jones, created a very good affect, as well, because they seemed to be created, conceived, as real clothing, rather than glamorous costume that often is employed in this genre. Alongside the set imagining this gave us a 'real' world to embrace that contrasted well, gave ballast, to the effervescent musical scoring and lyrics of the show.

Assisted by the fluid  and subtle mechanics of the shifting settings of the Set Design I was struck as to how brisk the storytelling in this book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse is. The drive of the narrative and the character developments had no 'fat' of sentimentality and presented a clear trajectory of the narrative with its simple complexities with sure and vibrant, almost brusque  strokes. There is no down time in the Book and it allows, opens up, the luxury of the bursting musical scoring of the songs, that permits a kind of rapturous energy and joie de vivre for  us, all, to indulge in. The realities of the visual are plainly balanced by the unrealities of the beauty of the musical sounds.

The songs are so famous, and are, in this production allowed to be uninhibited joyous celebrations of what I grew up to understanding was required for a blissful night in the Musical Theatre. The act one musical catalogue, alone, is made up of some of my favourite theatre songs, including: The Sound of Music, Maria, My favourite Things, Do-Re-Mi, Climb Every Mountain - a treasure-trove. It certainly gives one pause to consider as to what 'genius' can create in this genre, after sitting through so many so-called 'great' musicals of recent times.

The Direction of the acting based on the 2006 London revival, by Jeremy Sams, here re-directed by Gavin Mitford, is tightly focused and easeful, and the casting of this production is, mostly, wonderful.

Amy Lehpamer, as Maria, is all that one could want. The acting is clean and straight forward, with a sophisticated craft supporting her every moment - beautifully balanced - and is accompanied with a surety of vocal ease and delight with the notes and the words of the Rogers and Hammerstein II demands. There appears to be a simple exaltation of joy emanating from her and with such an apparent comfort of performance, Ms Lehpamer delivers to the audience an opportunity to, unconsciously, implicitly, trust the journey she takes us on - I remember the terrific impression she made on me with her work in DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, as the uproarious Christine Colgate, a few years ago.

Contrasting to the brightness of touch of Ms Lephamer, is the operatic soaring of Jacqueline Dark as the Mother Abbess, who spectacularly brings a power of sound and gravitas to the famous Climb Every Mountain that closes the first act. Although, one must acknowledge the full chorus of the Nunnery in their contributions, which are full-bodied and serenely bold in their affect throughout the rendering of the score - I note that Dominica Matthews from Opera Australia, as Sister Berthe, is there as well.

The Children, on my night, were well drilled, both musically and character-wise, and enchanting to watch  - I especially enjoyed Louis Fontaine, as Kurt. Include the well hewn talents of Lorraine Bayley, Philip Dodd, Marina Prior and David James, and the contributions of some relatively new artists, such as Stefanie Jones, Du Toit Bredenkamp and the time in the theatre with this well known piece just flew past.

The only misstep was the casting and contribution from Cameron Daddo, as the Captain Georg Von Trapp. Although, it is only a light weight singing demand - virtually, only Edelweiss - this role does require a weight of presence, along with some acting 'chops' of some power to balance all the 'shenanigans' of the others. After all, the vital narrative spine of the 'tale' is the 'de-frosting' of the widowed Georg under the optimistic brio of Maria and the children, and if it is not 'acted' with some range of clear journey the show can come apart, especially if the Captain's defiance of the Nazi force of order is not truculently struck and followed through with a 'political' conviction. This powerful masculine stance is what, also, makes Georg the 'prize' sought in the love triangle posited in the Book. Mr Daddo does not seem to have anywhere near the Musical Comedy strengths of any of the other actors in this production. (I re-called his contribution to the Australian production of LEGALLY BLONDE and one can only wonder, why or how, he captures these opportunities - someone in the John Frost organisation thinks he can do it and is a box-office draw-card, it seems, for both these shows were [partly] produced by the John Frost Company.) Mr Daddo's performance does not 'sink' the show, but that has more to do with the sweeping energies and conviction of everybody else, and the zestful quality of the production.

The Musical Direction of Luke Hunter with this small (13) but electrically assisted orchestra is strong; the simple choreography originated by Arlene Phillips, and re-produced here by Jonny Bowles is swift, clean and energising.

THE SOUND OF MUSIC at the Capitol Theatre was a terrific night in the theatre. Invigorating and a tonic for these difficult times. I highly recommend it. I had a great time. So did everybody else in the theatre. The love of this THE SOUND OF MUSIC was palpable. Every age group, as we left the theatre,  were smiling, beaming and humming those tunes.

No comments: