Theatrical.: The Sound of Music – Theatre Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

There is one musical that has always eluded me, The Sound of Music. And whilst I was aware of some of the musical’s iconic songs, I had never seen it. Even the film adaptation of the musical, staring the legendary Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer somehow escaped my gaze.

So, when I heard that local production company Theatrical. was producing a stage production of this theatre staple, I put in the research and watched the 1965 film before heading to St Kilda’s National Theatre on Tuesday the 5th of March.

Originally produced way back in 1959, The Sound of Music is set towards the end of the 1930s, right before Nazi Germany took over Austria. Based on the 1949 memoir of Maria von Trapp, the story follows a young Maria (Tayla Dwyer) who has joined an abbey to become a nun. However, with a curious nature and an insatiable need to break into song, Mother Abbess (Amanda Stevenson) feels a life of service may not be the right fit for Maria.

After losing his wife, Capt von Trapp (John Parncutt) had enlisted to help of several governesses to assist in raising his children but none seem to stand up to the task and move on as quickly as they arrive. Well, with seven children, it cannot be an easy household to maintain.

Mother Abbess dispatches Maria to the Von Trapp household to step in as the new Governess. Not knowing what to expect, Maria arrives to a household that is run with military precision. Quickly sensing the emotionally cold environment, she breeds some much-needed warmth and love into the household. However, she finds herself growing affection for more than just the children she has been tasked with taking care of. Maria is faced with a dilemma, between the love and devotion to the church, or that of her own heart.

Produced by Andrew Gyopar and directed by Karen Shnider, with original music and lyrics by the legendary Rogers & Hammerstein, this production of The Sound of Music is absolutely wonderful with and even more delightful cast. The set design is simplistic yet very detailed, including a stunning countryside backdrop depicting the beautiful Austrian countryside. The costume design is just as fantastic, from the nuns’ habit to the stunning ballgowns and tuxedos during the party scene, and the bright and colourful clothing of the Von Trapp children are all expertly designed. And of course, whilst the production value of this show is great, it is nothing without the amazing voices and acting capabilities of the full cast.

The first call out I want to make is to the Von Trapp children and Tayla Dwyer as Maria during their first musical number together. Before the show had even started, I sensed that something was off as it was running a bit late for the allotted 7:30pm start. I thought, perhaps it was just a few stragglers getting into their seats before the house was clear, but it turns out it was something that I have rarely experienced during live theatre, during the musical number of ‘Do-Re-Mi’ as the storm raged outside and the children piled into Maria’s room to seek refuge. Which, by the way, was the perfect mix of sound effect and lighting to display the flashes of lightning outside and the rolling thunder above.

As the Von Trapp’s entered the room, one by one, I counted and fell short of seven. I counted and recounted again and only noted six children on the stage. As it turns out, the role of Marta von Trapp had a last-minute withdrawal with Xoli McGinnes falling ill just before curtain and Ayda Melody Hendricks needing to step in at the last moment. Unfortunately, she did not make it to the stage in time, but the cast handled the absence so professionally that it was almost unnoticeable. And to occur during a number where each of the seven children have a specific lyric for each of the notes of the song, they all covered it so well.

Each of the six Von Trapp children cast, and Dwyer, need to be commended for their efforts in covering this scene. Charlotte Holland as Liesl, Damson Willis as Friedrich, Stephanie Adamson as Louisa, Matteo Maxwell as Kurt, Ruby McGrath as Brigitta and Adeline Baker as Gretil. And of course, when she made it to the stage, Melody Hendricks as Marta was equally as impressive. All seven of them are the shining stars of this production, each with their own unique spins on their characters. Although, the standout for me was Ruby McGrath’s Brigitta. She is outspoken beyond her years and plays a pivotal role in the development of our main character, Maria.

Other stand out performances and musical numbers include ‘Sixteen Going on Seventeen’ with Rolf (Kael D’Alterio) and Liesl (Charlotte Holland), complete with a wonderful dance number that makes the scene so sweet and wholesome. Holland and D’Alterio as so fantastic on stage together, making the perfect pair. D’Alterio is great later in the musical as his character’s development takes a dramatic turn towards the Nazi regime threatening the Austrian way of life.

Amanda Stevenson as Mother Abbess is superb in her role and blew me away with her rendition of ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’, hitting vocal ranges I never thought were humanly possible. Stevenson knocked it out of the park, quite literally climbing that mountain vocally. It was that good!

Brett O’Meara as Max Detweiler is the perfect portrayal of the character. Opportunistic, but not in a horrible way. Knows what is good for himself but also endeavours to preserve the Austrian culture in the face of such evil. O’Meara also puts on a wonderful musical performance with Kate Thurkle’s Baroness Elsa Schrader during ‘How Can Love Survive’. I also must commend Thurkle for her portrayal, completely encapsulating the rich, somewhat snobby persona of Elsa Schrader. Her body language, posture, even her accent was perfect. Well done.

John Parncutt is the ideal Capt. von Trapp. His character has so much growth throughout the production from the stern and demanding military leader of the household to a caring and loving father at the end, whilst also maintaining his devotion to the Austrian way of life, steadfast versus the opposition, and never wavering his beliefs during the impending takeover from the Nazi’s. Not only are Parncutt’s acting skill right up there with the best, but he also has the vocals to match. A deep, warm, baritone voice that perfectly harmonises with his counterpart Dwyer’s Maria. The clear stand out performance from Parncutt comes right at the end, with his rendition of the beautiful and exquisite anthem, ‘Elderweiss’. There is even a special moment where the audience can join in too.

The clear star of the show though is Tayla Dwyer as Maria. Her vocals are absolutely stunning and she has a natural chemistry with every character she interacts with. None more so than with the children. Musical numbers such as ‘Do-Re-Mi’, ‘The Lonely Goatherd’, a reprise of ‘Sixteen Going on Seventeen’ with Holland’s Liesl are all fantastic. And of course, the two most popular songs from this production, ‘My Favorite Things’ and the titular track, ‘The Sound of Music’. Every time that Dwyer stepped into a scene and sung, I was left amazed. An absolutely smashing performance.

Not only is The Sound of Music a stunning and timeless musical, but it is a harrowing recount of the persecution of the Austrian people at the hand of the Nazi regime. While this musical does cover a finite period of the world’s harrowing history, the underlying tale of defiance, honour, love, and sacrifice still ring true today. It is sad to think that after over 65 years, you can still find it comparable to some events happening in the world right now.

Theatrical.’s production of The Sound of Music is fantastic in every way, and I am thankful that I finally got to experience it live. Not only was this production the first time for me to see this iconic musical live on stage, but it was also my first time attending the National Theatre in St. Kilda, a beautiful piece of Melbourne’s arts history that has been preserved and repurposed as a combined drama school and glorious performance space.

This loving production of The Sound of Music has a limited run until the 17th of March and is a must-see for any theatre lover.

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Photography by Nicole Cleary.

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