It’s easy to be overly cynical about The Sound of Music. After all, it’s a musical that has dancing nuns, singing Nazis and a collection of songs that are so annoyingly catchy that they refuse to leave your mind for what seems like eons. And isn’t it one of the most overplayed films at Christmas every year? With all of that, why should anyone bother paying good money to see it live on stage?
Because it’s bloody good theatre.
For those only familiar with the film, the most surprising thing about the stage version is that it’s a much fuller story. Each of the characters have more depth, some significantly, and the songs each have a better woven place into the narrative, with some numbers not featured in the film and others that have a different context. It’s also a darker tale, with the wave of Nazism crashing over the characters with harsher results than the slight flavour hinted at in the film.
This musical just might be Rodgers and Hammerstein’s crowning achievement. Arguably two of the finest creative minds within the last century, they not only created some of musical theatre’s greatest moments but were the ones that wrote the how-to book, and each song in Music is not only well composed and written but furthers the story, most of the time seamlessly with the book.
Any excuse to see this gem performed live should be relished, and this production does more than give the play its high due. Jeremy Sams’ direction is brilliant, finding many excellent ways of fleshing out plot and character while allowing for many creative and impressive flourishes. His work is complimented by effective choreography and excellent design concepts.
The cast are also uniformly great. Getting a group of children to not only play convincing characters but to do so with such panache is no small feat, and so both the children and the production team who have handled their performances should be well commended. The production also has many solid performances, namely from Martin Callaghan as a wonderfully flamboyant Uncle Max, Claire Fishenden as eldest daughter Liesl and Jeremy Taylor in the small but vital role of Rolf. Jacinta Mulcahy makes for a strangely sympathetic Baroness. You almost feel sorry for her. Almost. Michael Praed is great as Captain Georg Von Trapp, a bitter man whose iron heart melts, and Margaret Preece is even better as the Mother Abbess.
But let’s be honest: this production exists solely for Connie Fisher. Fisher won the role of Maria in a highly-watched TV show and won much acclaim. I am pleased to report that Fisher not only shows the great potential that was seen four years ago on TV but has actually grown significantly. She is not only an excellent singer but dances well and proves herself to be a very effective comedienne at key moments. Sure, she may have been coached in the role, but it takes genuine talent to not only perform such a hard role but to make it look fresh every night, as Fisher does. If there is one flaw it is that the public may have grown to expect her to only play Maria, which is a shame because she shows such high potential at playing other great roles.
Whether or not you are a fan of the film, this production of The Sound of Music is essential viewing for any theatregoer. It not only shows that musicals can tackle difficult plot points while still having a sense of fun, it also does one of the 20th Century’s greatest artistic achievements proud.
Originally written for Onstage Scotland.
Playing at the Edinburgh Playhouse until February 20. It should also be noted that Connie Fisher is not scheduled to perform at all performances.
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