Review – The Sound of Music, Festival Theatre, Chichester, 2nd September 2023

The Sound of MusicNo sooner were Mrs Chrisparkle and I back from our four weeks at the  Edinburgh Fringe, we were off to Chichester for a weekend of (hopefully!) top quality entertainment at those terrific theatres. And, late to the party, we started off with the last Saturday matinee of the run of Adam Penford’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music. It’s ended now, but I’m sure it had a very successful run. As soon as you knew this was to be Chichester’s summer big show offering, you knew it was going to be a crowd pleaser. And Saturday afternoon’s audience was packed to the gunwales, with lots of kids all starting their journeys as the theatregoers of tomorrow, which is always great to see.

Gina BeckRobert Jones’s design is perhaps a little heavy on the ecclesiastical side, with grey abbey windows and arches which deftly slide in and out. An ornate front door and mansion frontage is wheeled into place to suggest the von Trapp residence, which seems very grand indeed. However, you never get a feel for those rolling meadows of green and the Alpine peaks that lurk just outside the abbey that were so important to the young Maria; and indeed, when we first see her she emerges from beneath the stage via a trap laying down in the glorious sunshine, appreciating God’s glorious scenery, whilst supine, not on a verdant bank, but on an expanse of grey. Fortunately, Matt Samer’s orchestra bathes us in musical sunshine throughout the show, which makes up for the lack of colour variety.

Gina Beck and kidsThe production itself is extremely classy and hits the right level of emotional engagement. I know I was not the only person in our party who noticed a tinge of moisture in their eye when the Captain melted at the sight (and sound) of his children singing (excellent melting from Edward Harrison in the role); the actual sound of music has a symbolic significance in this show, representing freedom, happiness, and love, as opposed to the self-repression that the Captain inflicted on himself and his children, and the oppression that would follow under the Nazis.

Lonely GoatherdThe production follows the original 1959 stage show reasonably faithfully, rather than the more familiar 1965 film, so expect My Favourite Things to come much earlier than you expect, The Lonely Goatherd has no puppet show, I Have Confidence is missing, and the nuns don’t get to scupper the Nazis cars at the end. The only change is that Something Good, originally written for the film, appears in Act Two instead of the lesser known An Ordinary Couple.

EdelweissI always think that you can judge a production of The Sound of Music by how well it reflects the Nazi threat. For the Salzburg Singing Contest scene, Nazi banners unfurl and drop down from the ceiling all around the stage, and SS Officers appear spotlighted standing amongst the audience members, which is a very threatening sight. When the family are hiding at the abbey and the Nazi officers come to hunt them down, lights and shadows add to the tension and anxiety of the scene. I never found it credible that Rolf saw the family but didn’t give the game away; he was a very ambitious young Nazi and he owed nothing to any of the von Trapps apart from Liesl. If he had captured them, he would have been given great preferment. Still; maybe love can defeat a swastika after all.

Maria and GeorgThe production benefited from some terrific performances. Gina Beck is excellent as Maria; her voice is clear and rich, her playfulness with the children (and indeed the Captain) is very nicely done, and her interaction with the other nuns works a treat. Janis Kelly as the Mother Abbess has an amazing voice and puts all her operatic heart and soul into the performance of Climb Ev’ry Mountain. Edward Harrison plays both the gruff and the sensitive sides of the Captain very well; and there are superb supporting performances from Wendy Ferguson and Julia J Nagle as Sisters Berthe and Margaretta, and Emma Williams as Elsa.

Rolf and LieslI wasn’t entirely sure about Ako Mitchell’s performance as Max; he came across as very showbiz and brash, soh doh!rather than shifty and unprincipled. Lauren Conroy looks a tiny bit old for Liesl, but she still has that necessary childish charm; and Dylan Mason’s Rolf is earnest and protective – and a superb dancer. I think we saw the Green Team of children, and they were all terrific.

Powerful, emotional and fantastically musical, this is a very good production that would certainly suit a transfer in due course.


Production photos by Manuel Harlan

4-starsFour They’re Jolly Good Fellows!

Review – Lost Musicals, Mexican Hayride, Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler’s Wells, 31st July 2011

Mexican HayrideJust as every year we treat ourselves to one BBC Prom Concert, we also treat ourselves to one Lost Musical. For many years now, Ian Marshall Fisher has been tirelessly reviving old American musicals that otherwise would never see the light of day, and mounting them as concert performances with actors in evening dress seated around the stage, scripts in hand, and with a man on the Joanna. It works wonderfully well as a sophisticated, informative entertainment. Michael RobertsInterest in this venture has grown to the extent that now they actually do three Lost Musicals a year; but less is more, so we choose just one to attend. This year, we chose Mexican Hayride, a 1944 confection from the piano keys of Cole Porter and the pens of Herbert and Dorothy Fields. And my guess is this year we made the wrong choice, because, basically, it’s a pretty weak musical. In a sense though that doesn’t matter. Without the opportunity to revisit an old show like this, who would have thought that a Cole Porter musical from 1944 that ran for 481 performances on Broadway would actually be a load of old tosh?

Louise GoldThe plot as such concerns a lady bullfighter in Mexico mistakenly believed to be involved in a lottery-fixing racket but whose real perpetrator is an American gangster type guy on the run. Once the story gets going, the only real progression is towards the gangster’s inevitable capture. For sure, there are some amusing characters and entertaining songs, but it really has little to say to a 21st century British audience, and the humour is disappointingly based on that rather now outdated practice of poking fun at foreign-sounding foreigners.

Stewart PermuttNevertheless, I still enjoyed it. The endearing cast perform with such heart-warming joie de vivre that any other reaction would simply be churlish. Michael Roberts reprised his gangster role from a couple of years ago, which he does with panache and amazing self-confidence. Louise Gold gave the character of Montana, the bullfighter, some warmth and personality that might not appear obvious from the text alone. Stewart Permutt, frequent Lost Musicals star, was as usual outrageously and delightfully over the top in his campery, and Wendy Ferguson, currently in Phantom, added a real star quality to the character of Lolita the night-club singer.

Wendy FergusonI’m not remotely concerned that the show wasn’t up to much. The very fact that a show that was the contemporary of Oklahoma! today looks so dated and humdrum by comparison is interesting in itself. Porter and the Fieldses are long gone, and there’s no way that this show could ever merit a proper revival. So it’s a fascinating glimpse into the past, to try to get a feeling of why the show was a success. I look forward to next year’s offerings!