As swansongs go, ‘The Sound of Music’ takes some beating. The last musical written by Rodgers and Hammerstein (lyricist Hammerstein died of stomach cancer nine months after its 1959 Broadway premiere), its songs are knitted into our national psyche, thanks mostly to the award-winning 1965 film adaptation starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.
The Salzburg-set story, for the few of you who might not have seen it, is one of a trainee nun, Maria Rainer, sent to be governess to the seven children of a widowed naval captain in the months leading up to the Anschluss: the annexing of Austria by Nazi Germany.
This production stays true to the original stage version, so fans of the film should be aware that the sequence of events is a little different. The troubling politics plays a greater role, and R&H lovers will appreciate lesser-known numbers such as ‘How Can Love Survive’ and ‘No Way to Stop It’, with their dark, cynical narrative. The flipside, however, is that the human side of the story is given scant room to breathe, with two key turning points – Maria’s winning of the childrens’ trust; and her romance with the captain – developed at breakneck speed. There’s not much chemistry between the two leads, in part due to Charlotte Wakefield (Maria’s) slightly laboured spoken performance, more suited to a larger arena than such an intimate setting. By contrast, Michael Xavier (Captain von Trapp’s) more natural demeanor was a pleasure to watch.
And there’s plenty else to love about this show. The soaring, melodic score – which includes classics ‘Edelweiss’, ‘My Favorite Things’, ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’– are delivered by talented singers (not least the delightful children, who drew coos from the audience).
There’s also its simple, uplifting message. The Open Air Theatre makes a superb setting: an oasis within an oasis, its miniature amphitheatre is flanked by tall trees and shrubbery, and director Rachel Kavanaugh puts ‘off-stage’ areas to good use. In Act II, after darkness has fallen, searchlights sweep the audience and armed Nazi guards run through the rows – the effect is chilling. You don’t get that watching it on the box.
By Tania Ballantine