Saturday 21 April 2018

The tracks of my tears

Andrea Smith was a sobbing mess at a preview of The Sound of Music

Family treat: Steven Houghton as Captain Von Trapp and Danielle Hope as Maria with the children in the Sound of Music, coming to Dublin in August. Photo: Pamela Raith.
Family treat: Steven Houghton as Captain Von Trapp and Danielle Hope as Maria with the children in the Sound of Music, coming to Dublin in August. Photo: Pamela Raith.

I'm normally one for a stiff upper lip, rarely shedding a tear, and tending to reserve my emotions for some poor animal's sad story on Facebook. So I began to worry about myself when I found tears rolling down my cheeks for the sixth time at The Sound Of Music at Bristol Hippodrome.

I'm laying the blame on Dame Jan Hartley, who plays the Mother Abbess, because every time she opened her mouth to sing, I was off again, weeping like a spout.

Jan actually played Maria in 1986 during the first UK tour of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, and says that she got into singing because she loved the musical so much. By the time she sang the spine-tingling Climb Ev'ry Mountain at the end of the first act, I needed a strong coffee at the bar to pull myself together.

The Bill Kenwright production coincides with the 50th anniversary of the 1965 film version, and it's coming to Bord Gais Energy Theatre in August. The show has given the world some of its most memorable songs including Edelweiss, So Long, Farewell, and The Sound of Music, and it's the best-loved and most successful movie musical in history.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, the story (based on true events) tells how the Von Trapp family fled the Nazi occupation of Austria in 1938, by escaping with a little bit of help from the nuns at the local abbey. The connection is there because the Mother Abbess feels that errant novice nun, Maria Rainer, needs to go out into the world before committing to a life of sisterhood, and sends her to be a governess to the von Trapp family children.

Their father, Captain Georg von Trapp, is a naval captain who is struggling to care for the children after the death of his wife, and when he unexpectedly falls for Maria, she flees back to the abbey, questioning her calling to God. The Mother Abbess advises her to go back to the von Trapp house, whereupon the captain proposes, and they are married at the abbey with all the nuns looking on. Then they have to flee after the Anschluss, when the captain refuses to serve in the German Navy due to his opposition to Nazi ideology.

When I was younger, I used to find that part dull as it was the plight of the motherless children and the love story that captivated me. Now that I'm older, I found the captain's principles and having to leave his homeland devastating. I needn't tell you what happened during his rendition of Edelweiss!

The lead role of Maria is played by Danielle Hope, but sadly she was laid low with bronchitis. Her replacement, Jessica Daley, did a stellar job, possessing a fabulous voice and imbuing Maria with the spirited naivety and fun-loving warmth that catches the eye of the powerful Captain von Trapp, played suavely and assuredly by Steven Houghton, and winning him from the sophisticated, scheming Baroness Elsa Schraeder (the very glamorous Sarah Soetaert). Christopher Plummer played the iconic movie role of the captain with a steely iciness, pushing his children away out of grief, and then adorably thawing as the feisty Maria brings love, music and laughter back into his home.

Steven Houghton is a familiar face, having played the role of model agent, Jeff Cullen, in Coronation Street. It's a long way from playing the love interest of serial dater Sally Webster to falling for a novice nun, but he bears the burden bravely. "I always get to kiss the girls," he laughs.

My only criticism of the stage version is that the captain and children warm to Maria too quickly, compared with the movie version, and some of the subtleties of the widower beginning to open himself to love again are somewhat lost.

However, the stage version came first, predating the film by six years, and while some of the songs appear at unexpected junctures on stage (like the Mother Abbess and Maria singing My Favourite Things in the convent, rather than Maria singing it to the frightened children in the bedroom during the thunderstorm) that's the way it was originally written.

The performances from this cast were outstanding, and a special mention must go to the children, (played by three separate teams during the tour) who were delightful and possibly kicked my shrivelled ovaries back to life with their note-perfect charm. The set is beautiful and effective, even though it's quite simple.

I highly recommend the show as it's a fantastic version of a timeless classic that will unfailingly touch hearts. Just whatever you do, for Gawd's sake bring plenty of tissues!

The Sound of Music will run at Bord Gais Energy Theatre from August 17 to 29.


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