Thursday, 1 October 2009

The Sound of Music - The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

The Sound of Music
Music: Richard Rodgers
Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II
Book: Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse
Director: Jeremy Sams
Choreography: Arlene Phillips
Reviewer: Jim Nicholson

The commanding stage presence of, reality show winner, Connie Fisher gives this enchanting musical an exuberance and sophistication that ensures a night to remember.

Although she may have become a household name via the BBC, the truth is Fisher was always going to reach the top. She had graduated from Mountview in 2005 with the ‘Gyearbuor Asante’ award for acting and just 12 months later she was opening as lead at the London Palladium. Sure, she had a little help from the beeb, but this did no more than speed up the focus on her talents.

She stars here as a feisty vulnerable Maria Rainer that sticks in the mind for spreading joy and happiness, tugging at the heartstrings and, above all, a clear and glorious voice that more than compares to the many fine singers who have taken the lead in this show over the years.

The Sound of Music was, in actual fact, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s last musical together as the latter died just nine months after it had debuted in 1959 on Broadway. It reached London in 1961 and then the big screen in 1965. There have been many versions since and this one stands out amongst the best because of a first class lead, kids that ‘do the business’ and a use of slick gadgetry that keeps the show moving at a real up-tempo pace.

Michael Praed comes across as a believable ‘whistle orchestrating upholder of disciplined regulation’ and he has a pleasant enough singing voice but the one element I was missing was ‘why’ would Maria have fallen in love him. The speed at which Maria wins over the kids is also somewhat questionable but the unruly offspring’s rebirth as a clinically precise Tyroleon harmony outfit is told with far more precision.

The 14 piece orchestra bring the best out of our Mother Abbess, played by Margaret Preece, as she ‘somewhat operatically’ brings both acts to a close, each time with ‘Climb Every Mountain’. Her audience reception at the end only outdone by Maria and the combined forces of the Von Trapp ‘magnificent seven’.

Martin Callaghan, as the impresario Max, is depicted as the loveable and ‘almost honest’ rogue whose heart of gold wins the day in the end despite dire consequences for himself.

Arlene Phillips choreography is at its best whenever the younger children are involved. Sophie Thorne as Brigitta is captivating as the child that can never lie, whilst the baby of the bunch Gretl, played by Megan Clarke, is not only ‘real cute’ but also seems to have a very distinct chemistry with Maria.

This is a lush staging that whilst managing to highlight the political tyranny of the time never loses its humour or joy and showcases the sheer ‘hummability’ of a wonderfully compelling score.

Photos: Catherine Ashmore
Runs until Sat 24th Oct
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