Love, loyalty, inspiration, courage – encased in the most sublime music.
The Sound of Music, at the Congress Theatre this week, is timeless and matchless.
The minor reservations first. Along with other cast members, Danielle Hope in the lead tries almost too hard for a rather precious “received pronunciation”. And that blonde wig really does look a bit precarious.
There may be a daring director out there itching to present Maria as a North Country lass and let her flowing brunette locks flow – if only they could get it past the Rodgers and Hammerstein Foundation!
But no matter. Audiences love it just as it is.
Danielle’s Maria is a reflection of the great Julie Andrews, but no imitation. She sings like an angel, shines with sincerity and captures the hearts of audience and von Trapps alike. Chatting with this reviewer a week ago, she spoke passionately of the role: “It’s very, very personal for Maria because she takes such a huge journey through the show – such a transformation from girl to woman.”
“She’s a headache, she’s an angel, she’s a girl!” sing the despairing nuns. Well, you won’t spot any headaches, but this is a young actress not so different from the young governess – a heady mix of the excited, the adventurous, but also the well-meaning and utterly purposeful. This is Maria.
Opposite Danielle, Stephen Houghton has all the correctness of Captain von Trapp, but his softer side seems a bit stifled. Sara Soetaert’s Frau Schraeder is elegantly sparkling as the love rival.
There is no better choreographer in the land at present than Bill Deamer. Next week’s Congress hosts his phenomenal Top Hat, and his Alpine company here is less spectacular, but exactly right. The children’s numbers are unfussy and precise, the ensemble routines sweep across the stage, and there is a gorgeous Going On Seventeen duet, swirling and light as a feather, between Grace Chapman’s Liesl and Luke George as suitor Rolf.
The other six von Trapp children are just delightful: no stage brats here, but only a perfect responsive line-up of melody and movement.
Lovely mellow Alpine backdrops recall warm 19th Century Romantic paintings, and in front of them the sets move seamlessly in and out. The show is well lit and smartly dressed – amazing what you can knock up from an old pair of curtains!
A splendidly jaunty band is given its head, and just occasionally threatens to overwhelm the song lyrics, but overall there is great musicianship both on stage and in the pit.
And the magnificent Richard Rodgers score never fades. In the echoing vaults of the Abbey you could be listening to Bruckner or Mozart. The twee children’s songs are, well, twee, but then the huge signature numbers just fill the theatre. Jan Hartley – a fabulous Abbess – delivers Climb Every Mountain with astonishing power and emotion. I defy you not to tingle.
Review by Kevin Anderson