Festival Theatre, Chichester
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse
Directed by Adam Penford
Chichester’s regular audience will enjoy Adam Penford’s take on The Sound of Music. Following hard on the heels of the venue’s production of Sondheim’s Assassins, a show that is likely to have made an uncomfortable or even incomprehensible impression upon many of the south coast’s venerable gentlefolk, this hardy perennial from Rodgers & Hammerstein and set in 1938 Austria delivers, for the most part, an evening of absolute delight.
Gina Beck takes on the role of Maria, the local nunnery’s wobbling wimpled postulant who learns that her heart’s desire is to be found not within the convent, but rather beyond the abbey walls and in the arms of local hero and father of 7, the widowered Captain von Trapp.
Beck is quite simply the sound of musical magnificence. Rodgers & Hammerstein wisely gave her character the lion’s share of the show's (many) big numbers, and from the moment Beck rises from a trap door, sprawled across a local mountain top and singing the title number, she sets spines a’tingling. Whether partnering the show’s (excellent) company of kids or Janis Kelly’s equally wonderful Mother Abbess, Beck’s singing is a dream and her casting is an inspired choice.
Kelly of course has the responsibility for the act one closer of Climb Ev'ry Mountain which she delivers flawlessly. Study the programme notes and gasp at Kelly’s operatic credentials, for to hear her and Beck alone is worth the price of a ticket! Equally entertaining are the wonderful Emma Williams as the Captain’s briefly-engaged fiancée Elsa Schraeder and Ako Mitchell as Austrian impresario Max Detweiler.
If there are flaws in the show they are that Edward Harrison’s von Trapp never quite matches Beck’s excellence and equally that the production’s casting seems clumsy. When Nazis and their sympathisers are played by performers of colour, what should be the horrifically racist impact of the swastikas that adorn the show’s post-Anschluss final act, is muted. The creative team should have thought longer and harder in this regard.
Designer Robert Jones works his usual magic on the Festival Theatre’s wondrous space, his work ingeniously transforming the stage from abbey to mountain top to the von Trapp residence. Likewise, Matt Samer and his 14-piece orchestra offer up a gorgeous interpretation of Rodgers’ timeless melodies. Audiences will not be disappointed.
Runs until 3rd SeptemberPhoto credit: Manuel Harlan