Last weekend – somewhat out of the blue – I received an invitation to attend the penultimate evening performance of the Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of Rogers & Hammerstein’s musical The Sound of Music and was only too happy to accept.
There can scarcely be a Ruster unaware of and/or unfamiliar with this iconic piece so I shall keep the opening of my review to a minimum.
In 1949 Maria von Trapp published a memoir entitled The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, covering her journey from being a noviciate nun who became a family governess to eventually marrying its widowed patriarch Captain Georg von Trapp.
In 1956 a German company made a film based upon the story and then a subsequent prospective American theatrical production, featuring songs from the von Trapp family’s repertoire, was enhanced at a relatively late stage by songs written by Rogers & Hammerstein and thus became transformed into the musical that debuted on Broadway in 1959 and formed the basis for the subsequent Sound Of Music phenomenon on stage and film.
The attending party I joined was comprised entirely of those who had seen the definitive movie starring Julie Andrews – either in whole or in part – several times on television during the past four-plus decades and indeed boasted at least two ladies who knew much of the story and dialogue (never mind the tunes!) by heart.
I had little doubt that inevitably – like me – most of them would be measuring this Chichester production against their cornucopia of reactions to – and expectations of – the piece as acquired over the course of personal history.
Which leads me straight to my verdict.
Dear reader, rather in the fashion of the proverbial Curate’s Egg, it was “good in parts”.
Gina Beck, who I had previously seen in South Pacific at the same theatre, was pretty exceptional as Maria (despite not being Julie Andrews!).
The young performers playing the seven von Trapp children did creditably well – including in some of the inventive and complex dancing routines in which their timing needed to be (and was) impeccable – but I have to hold my hand up and pass comment upon two of the male leads: Ako Mitchell (playing Max Detweiler) and Edward Harrison (Captain von Trapp).
I may get pilloried or even “cancelled” for this, but if so I must take the flak.
For me it seemed incongruous that Detweiler – in the piece an Austrian living in the 1930s – was played by a black actor, even one as accomplished as Mitchell whose performance could not be criticised.
As for Mr Harrison, I’m afraid that I also felt he was miscast – simply because he possessed but 20% (if that) of the “presence” and charisma of Christopher Plummer in the 1965 film that won 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture.
Without doubt the best vocal performance of the evening was that of opera singer Janis Kelly (playing the Mother Abbess) who virtually “stopped the show” with her epic and inspiring version of Climb Ev’ry Mountain.
And so there you have it.
From a personal perspective, my evening at the theatre was a welcome and enjoyable expedition in any event and – on one level – the opportunity to see The Sound Of Music in the flesh was one I was glad not to miss.
That said, as indicated, I did have my reservations about the show. Mind you, it appeared that I was in a minority of not more than a few, judging by the prolonged standing ovation that erupted at the conclusion of the evening.
I was momentarily reminded – as the kids received a roar of acclamation, not least for their energetic and perfectly-timed dancing routines, upon striding to the front of the stage – of Samuel Johnson’s dictum on the remarkability of a woman preaching being akin to a dog walking on its hind legs, viz. it was less about the fact it was being done well, but that it was being done at all.
If I may be permitted to finish with a rugby reference, there was a time, nearly twenty years ago now, during the period when resident PA announcer Mad Max ruled the roost at The Stoop – the home ground of the Harlequins – that, upon any visiting opposition player (especially a forward) being given a “yellow card” for an offence, as said miscreant trudged his sullen way to the sidelines he would be accompanied by The Sound Of Music‘s famous standard So Long, Farewell being played at full volume over the home loud speakers.