Thursday, July 26, 2007

'The Sound of Music' Sings at the London Palladium - A Performance Review

‘The Sound of Music’ tells of how a young novitiate named Maria and her love for music and singing sees her sent from the convent to become a governess for the seven children of the strict widower Captain Georg Von Trapp. Her infectious nature fills the Captain and his children’s home and eventually their hearts while the shadow of Nazi Germany is approaching.

This new London stage production opened to healthy advance ticket sales in November 2006 and continues to sell out today. Fueling the renewed interest in the musical is how the lead of Maria was cast. Newcomer Connie Fisher was discovered on the popular BBC talent show ‘How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?’ where the viewers chose the actress to play Maria.
Due to a vocal injury Fisher suffered earlier in the year, her workload was reduced from eight to six performances. Aoife Mulholland (pulled from the musical ‘Chicago’ on the other side of the West End) performs on Monday evenings and Wednesday matinees. This post is based on a matinee with Mulholland.

Now one will notice that both Fisher and Mulholland bear a more than slight resemblance to Andrews especially with their short cropped hair. But with such a resemblance it places an unfair pressure on either actress to duplicate Andrew’s performance in the film. Unfortunately, the sprite charm from Aoife seems too well rehearsed and the chemistry between her and Alexander Hanson (as the Captain) is lukewarm.

The show opens promising with the chorus of nuns. Then a shock happens. What appears to be devised as the ‘coup de theatre’ (think chandelier, helicopter, barricade), turns out to be one of most awkward if not most massive pieces of scenery ever devised. To depict the Austrian mountainside, we see Maria lying on a huge oval slope. The slope then tilts and appears to be more of a massive pancake or rather another planet.

There is one strikingly haunting moment in the production. Before the Von Trapp’s performance at the musical festival, the entire auditorium is cloaked in massive red banners (with Nazi German symbols) that unfurl on stage, along the theatre boxes and dress circle and one particularly scary one that spans the auditorium ceiling.

Hanson fares well as the Captain and is especially moving when he joins his children on stage at the festival and experiences his children singing for the Baroness. Faring even better are Ian Gelder (Max Detweiler) and Lauren Ward (Baroness Schraeder). Gelder and Ward perform the two numbers (“How Can Love Survive” and “No Way to Stop It”) cut from the film with excellent camaraderie and humor.

With all the above said, this ‘Sound of Music’ definitely does not lack in the most important factor: the songs. They are orchestrated superbly and sung beautifully by all (including Aoife). Simply, they still stir the emotions. If the entire show is a misfire here and there, any audience member will agree that the songs and music remain fresh and justify another listen by generations old and inviting to generations new.

‘The Sound of Music’ plays at the London Palladium. Performance times are Mon, Wed—Sat 7:30pm; Tue 7pm; Matinees Wed & Sat 2:30pm. Ticket prices: GBP 25-55. Book tickets at Recording of the 2006 London Palladium Cast available on iTunes or on CD from Decca. More info at Production photographs used for illustration purposes only.


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