Bloom and grow forever [by James Wenley]
If you’re not completely won over by the time the Von Trapp children are skipping along to Do-Re-Me, you should see a doctor immediately to check for a heart condition.
The template for the New Zealand touring production is Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 2006 production at the London Palladium (for which he cast Maria through a reality TV show), and winds our way with a largely South African cast, and some talented local kids. Writing in the program, Lloyd Webber reflects that he was teased by his school-mates after attending the opening of the 1961 London production; musicals were an “unfashionable cause”. Those are sentiments I can certainly sympathise with. I have a high regard for The Sound of Music, the final masterpiece from Rodgers and Hammerstein, but to admit so was hardly fashionable for a teenage boy.
The popularity and ubiquity of The Sound of Music can sometimes work against it. Surely there are only so many times you can stand Maria listing off her favourite things. This stage production at The Civic greets us however as an old and comforting friend, and I’m very happy to meet it again.
What makes The Sound of Music work so well? An inspiring true story? Check. Adorable kids? Check. Ridiculously catchy tunes? Check. Watching it on stage you can admire again the way it textures a story about family and love against the backdrop of significant political change. It is Austria of the late 1930s, and the German Anschluss is coming. “If the Germans did take over, we’d have efficiency” remarks Butler Franz. Whereas a conventional musical plot would end at the point that postulant Maria melts the heart of Captain Von Trapp and they wed, Music achieves its greatness with a true test of the family, as they attempt to make a daring escape from their country.
This production belongs to Bethany Dickson’s Maria, she looks and sounds the part, but with a vitality all of her own. Mark Rayment’s Captain is slower to charm, but gives a believable portrait of a man reluctant to acknowledge his feelings. The children, one of three rotating casts, are delightful, and embody their characters personalities perfectly. Its good casting all round, from Carmen Pretorius’ Liesl to James Borthwick’s Uncle Max. The headliner, Lesley Garrett as the Mother Abbess, which she originated in the 2006 London production, is remarkable. Her version of Climb Ev’ry Moutain powerfully fills the Civic, and she plays the Abbess with a wry, worldly humour.
In general, the production is faithful to our expectations of Music. While Lloyd Webber said he didn’t want to produce the movie, they did add film-only songs Confidence in Me and Something Good so it more strongly aligns. Otherwise some songs appear in different places, and it’s also clear here why stage-only songs How can Love Survive? and No Way to Stop it weren’t included in the film. This is Music as it should be, with gorgeous set, lighting, and costumes so splendid that even Maria’s postulant dress or curtain garments for whole family don’t look half bad. The production knows that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, a lesson that certain Nuns should note.
You can have confidence in this production. Go and let The Sound of Music fill your heart once more.
The Sound of Music is presented by Lunchbox Theatrical Productions and David Atkins Enterprises and plays The Civic until 26 October. Details see Auckland Live.