The Sound Of Music

Tammy Moore has a night of nuns, Nazis and nine Von Trapps

Unless you grew up in a bubble controlled by music-hating scientists you know the basic story to The Sound of Music. Escape being drip fed the film version one Christmas at a time and you will just absorb it through cultural osmosis. You know the drill: nuns, Nazis and nine singing Von Trapps.

And you love it.

At the Grand Opera House the minute the familiar strains of ‘The Hills Are Alive’ drifts over the stage the audience is rapt. Almost to a man we – even certain reviewers of a known gothic sensibility – aw and ah and sniffle in all the right places. ‘Doe, A Deer’ and ‘Climb Every Mountain’ are particular favourites, with more than a few members of the audience quietly singing along.

In The Sound of Music the songs are the real stars of the show. That said the cast of this production perform admirably. The Mother Abbess, played by Marilyn Hill Smith, deserves special mention for a pre-interval performance of ‘Climb Every Mountain’ that could be felt in the bladder (pre-show tipples are not always wise) and the Von Trapp children are cuter than a bag full of kittens.

Michael Praed turns in a deliberately stiff and awkward portrayal of the once-musical father of seven. Von Trapp's gradual thaw on stage is an ongoing and occasionally subtly sign-posted thing that, unfortunately, seems entirely due to his relationship with the charming Baroness Schraeder.

Played by the accomplished Jacinta Mulcahy, Baroness Schraeder is an urbane, cultured woman with a wry sense of humour and a genuine fondness for the man under Von Trapp’s stiff exterior. Elegant and graceful, with upswept blonde hair and smooth, cat-like smiles, she glides through her role. Her voice is less commanding than some of the other singers, but she wears the skin of her character with convincing ease.

It is marvellous to see a rival love interest for the hero who is a strong, independent woman and not secretly an evil witch. The problem is that she overshadows Connie Fisher’s naïf Maria.

As a result the crowning moment when we are meant to realise that Von Trapp loves Maria is unconvincing. To be totally honest, it verges on the comic. The ring is still warm from the Baroness' finger as Von Trapp turns and pledges his troth to Maria – as if he might have proposed to his pneumatically bosomed housekeeper if she’d been there instead.

As someone in the audience comments later. ‘That man rebounded like a rubber ball.’

The emotional disconnect isn’t entirely Fisher’s fault, although her comfort zone as Maria lies in group interactions rather than stand-alone moments. Maria and Von Trapp’s relationship in the musical is given very little opportunity to develop on-stage. Everyone knows that the two of them fall in love, so rather than showing it the production offers a few charged scenes to short-hand the relationship.

It is one of the show’s few weaknesses and, in fairness, is effectively off-set by the sheer delight of the performances. The supporting cast are all strong, the set is elegant and adaptable, conjuring up mountains, castles and convents, and when the Nazi flags flutter on stage it is a brutally chilling moment.

At the end, as the Von Trapps flee over the mountains to Switzerland, not even the slowly inflating brown lump on stage – wreathed in smoke it looked like a steaming poo and reduced a few people to giggles – can spoil it.