A visit to the theatre to see The Sound of Music takes me back to 1965 and being an excited seven year old taken to see the Julie Andrews film classic of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s greatest hit (first written for the stage in 1959). The Sound of Music has been described as “the world’s favourite musical” and it is a sure money spinner which is why it is produced as often as it is.
I have seen several live productions over the years including the 2014 one which this reprises, but this 2017/2018 all South African production which has just completed an overseas tour is by Andrew Lloyd Webber and his Really Useful Group, brought to us by David Ian Production and Pieter Toerien Productions is top notch – easily the best I have ever seen.
For people familiar with the movie, the sequence of the much loved songs with wholesome lyrics and singable tunes is somewhat different, but it all works wonderfully. The dramatic tension is tight and I found that I was more caught up in the characters than I usually am when watching yet another production of The Sound of Music.
The audience on the ordinary weeknight that I attended was multi-generational – everything from people who were older than seven in 1965 through to children who are not yet older than seven. For many in the audience both the music and the story were new to them.
The sets are exquisite (particularly the magnificent church scene where the wedding was conducted), although I thought the mountains were about as well done as is possible for recreating a Swiss Alp on a stage. The costumes (particularly the costumes in the party and wedding scenes) and Robert Jones is to be commended for his excellent work on both the sets and the costumes in this regard. Lighting is by Mark Henderson and it is superb, particularly in the thunderstorm scene.
The musical director is Kevin Kraak and the musical input is slick, with this production using the original orchestration by Robert Russel Bennet from the 1959 show. The singing nuns climbing the stairs of the auditorium in the beginning sounded a bit thin to those of us close to the aisles – can’t be helped, really, but perhaps the nuns should have exited from the stage area and so stayed closer to one another – a minor gripe, of course.
Carmen Pretorius was a charming and plausible Maria capturing her loveable free spirit very well, with Janelle Visagie as a magnificent Mother Superior, Andre Schwartz as Captain Von Trapp. Andre Schwartz copes easily with the music, but he is visually not made in the mould of a romantic hero.
Baroness Schraeder was played by Haylea Heyns, and Max Detwieler was portrayed by Jonathan Taylor. The children are all quite adorable – and importantly, never shrill – I was positively impressed. The diction, both in the singing and the speaking, is excellent all round. Sixty years on there are some lines that make one cringe – Maria saying “I belong to him” and the whole “I am 16 going on 17” number is very dated now. For the most part the foreboding of the evils of Nazism is underplayed in this version.
The climax of the production finds us, the audience, transported back to 1938, in Austria as the Von Trapp Family sing with Andre Schwartz singing Edelweiss for the first time, really making the point about his rebellion against the Third Reich with its Nazi regime as the words “Bless my homeland forever” echo through the theatre. The escape from the concert hall is the pinnacle of the action with the armed Nazis surrounding the audience and the tension is held right through to the family’s narrow escape in the Nonnberg Abbey garden. Their final escape over the mountain is a poignant relief for everyone.
Once or twice during this heart-warming production, I found my eyes becoming somewhat watery and once they even leaked. The Sound of Music can be seen at the Teatro, Montecasino until 28 April 2018, whereafter the production will head to Cape Town. It is a longish evening for the little ones with the performance, including the interval, running to about two and a half hours, but most of them stayed awake throughout.
Great family entertainment. Five stars.