The Sound of Music at the Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury and touring until 22 October.
Star rating: three stars ★ ★ ★ ✩ ✩
It wasn’t long ago that I caught up with this touring production of the much-loved Rodgers and Hammerstein musical in Milton Keynes. Now the Bill Kenwright-produced show is on the road again, with several new faces taking on the lead roles, and it’s still looking in pretty good shape.
Any decent staging of The Sound of Music, originally on Broadway in 1959 (with the movie celebrating its 50th anniversary last year), has to tug on the heartstrings. And, after a slow start, it’s impossible not to invest in what happens to Lucy O’Byrne’s young postulant Maria and the von Trapp family as they prepare to leave their beloved Austria at the start of the Second World War.
O’Byrne is best known for being the runner-up on BBC1’s The Voice when she was mentored by will.i.am. At the time, her big dream was to appear in a West End show, but the nearest she had got was working as an usher at a London theatre.
Perhaps O’Byrne’s limited stage experience shows in the early stages of the evening when she looks far more comfortable when called upon to sing, rather than tackle Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse’s dialogue, but a display of nerves and naiveté ultimately doesn’t do her portrayal of Maria any harm.
As soon as the up and coming actress (looking like a blossoming Julianne Moore) is among the Von Trapp children, played by a sweet-voiced, talented and charming set of young performers, she begins to come into her own – providing the first goosebumps of the evening with ‘Do-Re-Mi’ (choreographed with flair by Bill Deamer).
It’s around this time that a somewhat pedestrian dramatic pace starts to pick up, helped also by the arrival of Andrew Lancel’s Captain von Trapp and house guests Elsa Schraeder (Lucy Van Gasse) and Max Detweiler (Duncan Smith).
While some fans of The Sound of Music movie might be thrown by the two unfamiliar numbers sung by Van Gasse and Smith, they add a welcome satirical and even political counterpoint to the oodles of sentimentality elsewhere.
Lancel’s performance of a man frozen with grief who slowly but surely allows himself to live and love again is a moving one. Indeed, there is real tenderness to the scene when the Captain and Maria finally confess their love to each other (‘Something Good’). Lancel has a fine voice which suits the role perfectly; he just needs to work on his musical timing with MD Tim Whiting and the fine orchestra.
Last but not least, amidst a strong ensemble, there is the ever-impressive Jan Hartley, reprising the role of Mother Abbess. When an audience hears the first notes of ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’, it always hopes for a powerful rendition, but Hartley sends you into the interval overwhelmed by the quality and passion of her voice and the emotion she invests in her version. She really is a class act.
In fact this is a pretty classy production (directed by Martin Connor, design by Gary McCann), and with a few creases ironed out, and the growing confidence of the new faces in the cast, it could be earning even more stars as its tour continues.