This great Rodgers and Hammerstein show is on at Brisbane's QPAC at the moment. I went the other day, along with about 500 schoolkids (figure supplied by QPAC staff member!) on a school excursion. The performance was pretty much a sell-out and, especially with so many youngsters in the audience, lively and enthusiastic.
So is the show itself. Great fun and highly enjoyable. Of course, it is virtually impossible to comment on a stage version of this show, without comparing it with the famous 1965 film of the same name directed by Robert Wise and starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. The show currently in Brisbane is apparently based on a production at the London Palladium. If you go to a show like this, you know the story backwards, you know the songs and lyrics backwards, so you go with expectations of high fidelity to the movie. You won't be disappointed.
The story scarce needs repeating: Maria, the novice nun, sent as a governess to the widowed Captain von Trapp and his seven children; Maria and the captain fall in love, marry, then are forced to flee when the Nazis take over Austria in 1938; all the more captivating as it's based on a true tale.
All the well-known songs are in this stage production, though not always in the order they occur in the film. Indeed, this stage version includes two songs not in the movie, which is a point of extra interest in itself. The story is presented on stage pretty much as it was on film, though for obvious logistical reasons, some of the film's scenes, e.g. outdoor shots, are not replicated on stage. This doesn't matter; you will recognise and warm to every scene on stage.
The performances in the stage show, with one partial exception, are excellent all around. The seven children were lovable, cute and superb. Their singing was excellent and their dancing, especially in the "Doe, Ray, Me" song, was great. A QPAC staff member told my friend and I that most of the children were local recruits, and that the little girl who played Gretel was only seven. She was a real little trouper! The role of Maria was played by a relative unknown, Amy Lehpamer, who, nevertheless, has extensive stage experience, and boy, was she good. First-rate singer, good actress, excellent dancer. I couldn't help thinking during her performance: "She's channelling Julie Andrews!" Cameron Daddo played Captain von Trapp, but I thought his performance was, in part, the only weak point in the show. Daddo is a fine actor who has given us many excellent performances on stage and screen. However the Captain's character is ex-military and sometimes tough. Only in the second half of the show, when the character has to confront the Nazis, did I feel that Daddo "toughened up" sufficiently to capture this facet of Captain von Trapp. Also, Daddo has a naturally soft voice and sometimes the venue's sound system failed to capture his singing and dialogue. David James plays Max Detweiler, the lovably self-interested impresario, and he has some of the best lines in the show – "I like the way rich people live. I like the way I live when I'm with them!" James carries the part with great aplomb and assurance. Marina Prior, a very experienced performer, is in good voice as Baroness von Schraeder.
The show has a live orchestra who performed at a very high standard. These days, I'm never quite sure whether small, theatre orchestras are reinforced by computerised backing tracks. If these guys were, the backing tracks were so well integrated with the live musicians that you couldn't tell the difference. As well, the scenery and decor are really spectacular, and the lighting is superb. Some of the really memorable scenes, from a lighting, atmosphere, and decor point of view, are in the abbey and the church, during the Mother Superior's scenes and the wedding. In this stage production, the Mother Superior is perhaps a little stronger and more centre-stage than she was in the movie, and she was a strong enough character there, as we all know.
The ultimate test of any stage show is the audience reaction. My audience, especially reinforced by all those schoolkids, loved it. They applauded every song. They cheered and clapped the first kiss between Maria and the Captain. When Maria first appears in her wedding dress, the audience loved that and applauded it too. Everyone entered into the spirit of the occasion. This rubbed off on the players, and everyone had a high old time. When they were taking their curtain calls at the end, the cast got a tremendous reception from a highly appreciative crowd.
It was a really good show, greatly enjoyed by everyone, performers and punters alike, and I thoroughly recommend it. It'll make you want to have another look at the movie. Like I did.
My star rating (out of five): * * * * 1/2