Wednesday 7 August 2013

The Sound Of Music

Open Air Theatre, London


Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse
Directed by Rachel Kavanaugh

Charlotte Wakefield is Maria Rainer

How do you solve a problem like The Sound Of Music, this season’s highlight from the Open Air Theatre? It may be one of the most famous musicals written, containing countless memorable songs that have been hard-wired into our collective psyche, yet its underlying structure remains shallow and ridiculous. A story that sugar-coats enormous issues and trivialises them, glossing over stifled and stilted parenting and an abused and damaged childhood, whilst the ever menacing loom of the Anschluss suggests that the Third Reich is more of a fairy tale baddy that can be easily hoodwinked, rather than a regime that was to prove to be the century's most infernal monstrosity. The story is clich├ęd, flawed and quite how it achieved epic status would confound today’s book-writers. Nonetheless, The Sound Of Music is a global behemoth and one whose staging always presents the challenge of how to make such a well loved and familiar classic appear fresh and new.

Without question Rachel Kavanaugh, together with her cast and creatives rise to that challenge. Charlotte Wakefield is a Maria who in act one beautifully meets the demands of the solos and duets of some of the world’s most well-known songs. Wakefield convinces us as the delightfully dotty nun, struggling with her emerging emotions of love and desire for Captain Von Trapp. Shame though on Rodgers and Hammerstein for simply dismissing the damage of her “wicked childhood and miserable youth” with such casual lyrical disdain in Something Good.

Michael Xavier a stalwart of the musical stage, is miscast as the dignified and stoic albeit struggling Von Trapp. We learn that his Captain had been awarded military honours in “the war” which would have seen him so decorated at least twenty years before this story takes place and suggesting that he is a man at least in his mid-40’s. Notwithstanding that Xavier is a consummate actor, he lacks the gravitas and presence to effectively portray the uber-potent but nonetheless almost middle-aged, naval commander.

Fans of Stuart Matthew Price, prepare yourselves for a disappointment. A vocal legend of his generation, he is cast with not one note to sing. Price’s butler Franz displays a definite leaning in style towards The Rocky Horror Show’s Riff-Raff and whilst he is magnificently clipped and elegant in his ultimately traitorous role, this actor's immense musical theatre talents are woefully squandered.

Michael Matus as flamboyant promoter Max Detweiler is his usual irrepressibly excellent self. Matus exudes brash bonhomie just by being on stage, with a glorious voice that matches his striking character. Credit too to Caroline Keiff whose Elsa Schraeder is an elegant and well crafted depiction of understated nastiness. 

Michael Matus and Caroline Keiff

The show’s set design is clever, simply switching between the Von Trapp mansion and the convent and the skills of Tim Mitchell and Nick Lidster in light and sound respectively, ensure that the entire show can be clearly seen and heard throughout the Regents Park amphitheatre.

Kavanaugh aquits herself well with such a well known work. If you are unfamiliar with the tale, then consider seeing the show, if only to observe some of the very best aspects of London’s world-class theatre industry. If though, like most people, you love the work then definitely take that stroll to the park. You will be uplifted and exhilarated by the quality of the production.

Runs until 7 September

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