Monday, 10 March 2008

The hills are alive (sort of)

What's the point of reviving a classic musical? We were at the London Palladium on Saturday to see The Sound of Music, and though it was generally a warmly enjoyable family experience (there were three generations of us in attendance), this question passed through my mind a number of times during the afternoon.

On the positive side, the set designs looked fantastic and the rapid scene and costume changes caused frequent intakes of breath from the audience. Musically, the production was faultless, and special praise must go to Margaret Preece as the Abbess whose belting 'Climb Every Mountain' reached every corner of the cavernous theatre. The kids playing the Von Trapp children were delightful too, and newcomer Amy Lennox as Liesl almost stole the show. 

Which brings us to the leading roles. Simon Burke's voice has a beautifully warm tone, but he was an extremely wooden Captain Von Trapp. I know he's supposed to be buttoned-up at the outset, but there was little sign of an emotional thaw as things progressed. And I think he's been told to take Prince Charles as his model of masculine awkwardness: hence the stiffly besuited stance and constant fiddling with his hands. His change of heart towards Maria was unconvincing and the love scene between them was clumsily handled.

As for Maria: well, Andrew Lloyd Webber has been up to his reality-TV tricks again. With original competition winner Connie Fisher leaving the show, he's come up with a new wheeze to pack in the crowds, planting his new Maria as a character in teen soap Hollyoaks and turning up in person to audition her. The lucky winner this time is Summer Strallen, who brings more stage experience to the role than Fisher, and certainly has a refreshingly youthful take on the role. But I'm not sure she's quite settled into the part yet: I found some features of her interpretation a little grating. Why the posh vowels, for example - is the legacy of Julie Andrew so inescapable? - and surely Maria would work better as a simple country girl thrown into the aristocratic stiffness of the Von Trapp household. At times Strallen comes over as a slightly annoying CBBC presenter - all exaggerated grins - and at other times she's just too - well, modern - for a 1940s Austrian ex-nun. 

The problem, I think, lies in the direction - which brings me back to my original question. I don't think Lloyd Webber or anyone in his team have thought through what it means to make a musical written in the late 50s/early 60s, and set in the Second World War, come to life in the early twentieth century. There's little sense of the show being given a fresh interpretation for a new century, and a new audience.

And you can't escape the fact that everyone in the audience will know the film almost by heart, and will judge any new stage version against it. I came away with renewed admiration for the film version, realising that much of the magic was in the cinematic direction, rather than in the original show, which (despite the fantastic songs) without the movie stardust can at times seem stagey and unconvincing. 

No comments: