The Sound of Music

Theatre, Musicals
4 out of 5 stars
The Sound of Music

If the uplifting story of everyone's favourite governess is one of your favourite things, then don't miss this London Palladium production

People who hate musicals often look to Rogers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music as the epitome of their hatred; saccharine, simplistic and silly, they say. A completely facile answer to the horrors of Nazism, they carp. The rest of us might nod our heads in agreement but damn it if we’re not tapping our feet along with the music. We can’t help but love this sentimental confection, and the producers know it.

It’s significant that Andrew Lloyd Webber is the most famous of these producers, casting the original Maria via a camp-as-hell yet utterly compelling reality TV talent show when negotiations with Scarlett Johansson fell through. He’s always had an uncanny eye on popular appeal, even if he’s had to sacrifice credibility in pursuit of it.

Connie Fisher was the eventual winner of that bizarre public audition process, and went on to considerable acclaim in the role. Melbourne audiences are lucky to have Amy Lehpamer take on the wayward novice, Maria. She’s dynamite, in that perky, plucky way that has defined the role since Julie Andrews. Her lower register is used to great comic effect and her higher register is consistently clear. Physically she seems to be channeling the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz, but this only heightens her charm.

It’s lucky she is so charming, because Cameron Daddo’s Captain von Trapp is more of a Tin Man than a man of gravitas and barely-repressed sex appeal. His singing voice is vaguely pleasant but hardly rousing, and his transition from stern task-master to benevolent patriarch is rudimentary at best. The chemistry between the two is the engine of the play, so it’s rather alarming to see it run on only one piston.

The rest of the cast make do with the limited roles on offer. Marina Prior is surprisingly sympathetic as Baroness Schraeder, and David James appropriately robust as Uncle Max, but most of the supporting cast have little to do and nowhere to go. Only Stephanie Jones as Liesl and Jacqueline Dark as the Abbess manage to reach the heights set by Lehpamer, the latter threatening to walk off with the whole show in her electrifying rendition of ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’.

The set [Robert Jones] is an intriguing play on the diorama, with enclosed scenes of limited depth inside a simple framed box. It has a strangely flat, pictorial quality which may have worked better on a smaller stage but feels diminished and cartoonish in the massive Regent Theatre. Occasionally it works a treat, as in the lavish and economical wedding of the two leads (oops, spoiler alert!) or the scenes set high on the hill.

The children should probably get a mention but, given the spectacular performances we’ve seen in Matilda recently, it’s hard to get excited by the cutesy, squeaky dolls we see here. Individually, they have virtually no impact but as a group they are admittedly pretty fine. The performance of ‘Do Re Mi’ in particular is virtuosic, and genuinely rousing.

And here lies the magic of The Sound of Music: it’s cynic-proof, curmudgeon-proof and ultimately critic-proof. This production delivers the show precisely as it is intended, schmaltz and all. So the second act’s decent into historical revisionism is mildly offensive, and the word Hitler – let alone the word Jew – is never even mentioned. So one woman’s spiritual crisis is solved by the love of a strong man. So a desperate struggle to survive is depicted as a bit of a trot through the countryside. So what have audiences got to say? Lay ee odl lay ee odl-oo. 

By: Tim Byrne

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