The Sound of Music has been Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s best-loved musical for more than 50 years, so whenever a new production hits the stage it will inevitably be compared to the famous film, which was the most successful film of a Broadway music to date.
So how does the Australian version of 2016 stack up?
In my view, extremely well. Having seen many productions of the famous musical, there is always the fear that it will be past its use-by date, but this new production from director Jeremy Sams and resident director Gavin Mitford has a delightful freshness about it that gives it a spark and a little Aussie chutzpah.
Taking on Julie Andrews’ iconic role of Maria is always a tough ask, but rising music theatre star Amy Lehpamer grabs this role and turns Maria into a feisty, loving girl with a heart of gold but who is not afraid to stand up for herself. There is a pleasing cheekiness to Lehpamer’s Maria that wins the audience over from her very first notes. I suspect there may be many audience members who fall in love over the footlights with this very appealing Maria.
As the harsh Captain von Trapp who learns to love again, Cameron Daddo is a fine actor and we travel his journey with him. He is an actor-singer who doesn’t have the classical vocal prowess of the rest of the cast, but it matters not – he is believable and we are so pleased when he realises that his heart has been stirred and he embraces the treasures of family and love again.
The whole cast is remarkable in terms of its gorgeous sound as classical music theatre singers. Leading the charge is opera singer Jacqueline Dark, who brings her top-level vocal skills to the role of Mother Abbess. Dark began in music theatre before her opera career, so it’s no surprise that in returning to it she has the audience in the palm of her hand. I suspect I wasn’t the only one reaching for tissues when she finished the first act with a stunning rendition of Climb Ev’ry Mountain.
The whole ensemble of nuns made a beautiful ethereal sound, no doubt helped by experienced classical singers, Dominica Matthews, Eleanor Blythman and Johanna Allen as the leading nuns. Another leading music theatre star, Marina Prior, gives the usually hard-edged Frau Schraeder a more sympathetic reading, imbuing her character with some warmth and style, and her lovely singing voice is put to good use.
The veteran of the cast, 79-year-old former Playschool presenter and star of the Australian wartime TV series The Sullivans, Lorraine Bayly, gives a charming performances edged with humour in the role of housekeeper Frau Schmidt. Bayly may move a little more slowly these days, but that fine speaking voice retains its beauty.
More recent Playschool presenter David James had a ball as the opportunist with a heart of gold and wit to match, Max Detweiler – a sheer delight to watch. The juvenile leads of Liesl and Rolf, Stefanie Jones and Du Toit Bredenkamp respectively, gave a good account of themselves, and Jones’ true voice and fine dancing ability gave great pleasure.
The children cast in this production are natural, charming, lively and never twee. This is hard to achieve, so hats off to the directors. Young Karina Thompson as Brigitta is a standout, as the child who notices everything and comments on events, and her diction and sense of timing are object lessons to every young performer. Something that particularly impressed me was that every character used the colours in their speaking voices to great effect, adding to their characterizations.
Musical supervisor Peter Casey and conductor Luke Hunter give us an orchestra that provides classy support to the cast.
A word to the wise – if you are beyond Row L in the stalls or the first section of the dress circle, pop in your binoculars or opera glasses, as the Regent is a huge theatre and you will miss the fine detail happening on stage.
But if your life needs a little magic and a warm glow, this production of the Sound of Music should achieve that.