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BWW Review: THE SOUND OF MUSIC at Porirua Little Theatre

Black Hawk Exhibition Centre, Porirua

BWW Review: THE SOUND OF MUSIC at Porirua Little Theatre

Director: Rob Ormsby

Musical Director: Jen Church

Theatre Company: Porirua Little Theatre

Reviewed by Lindsey Rusling

The Sound of Music is such a well-known and well-loved musical. I have deeply embedded memories of my Mother dusting off the VHS every Christmas much to the family's distress and then switching it off after "Something Good" much to howls of displeasure before allowing us to watch to the end.

It is with much the same trepidation that I set out to watch Porirua Little Theatre's production. I imagined it would be long, twee and a bit old-fashioned. How wrong could I be?

Entering the Black Hawk Exhibition Centre the space has been transformed into a geometric wonderland with triangular, snow-capped mountain peaks interspersed with gauze and large, interlinking, moveable frames around an end-on stage. The lighting is colourful, dramatic and haze adds depth and atmosphere.

Director, Rob Ormsby's concept of physical frames to underpin the themes of captivity and freedom and the use of Austrian travel posters of the 1930's for colour and shape are stunningly realised by Anna Lowe's excellent set design.

The musical starts with beautiful singing and harmonies from the Nuns in the Convent whose vocals were a delight throughout. Unfortunately, however, the orchestra was not as tightly tuned or as decisive as it could have been with some instruments also lagging in places. On the night I attended the sound balance is not quite right and some of the vocal was lost behind the music.

Catherine Gavigan-Binnie has a wonderful look for Maria, an empathetic mien and she sings with a lovely tone and vibrato but there was too much concentration on the vocal and not enough connection with the audience or the children. Many of the solo moments were stand-and-deliver songs where we need to see the inner thought processes to be able to react to and understand the character's feelings and if the actor is too busy focusing on the technical aspects of singing, or trying to emulate the original Maria, we lose the intimacy of the moment.

Maria's romance with Capt. Von Trapp (a somewhat earnest performance by David Marris) is sweet and believable although a more intimidating characterisation by Marris at the beginning would increase sexual tension in those awkward moments that are so entertaining for the audience - I'm not sure the Baroness would have had anything to worry about at the Ball. Marris has a beautiful singing voice and both the duets with Gavigan-Binnie and Edelweiss are highlights.

Jake Elston brings masses of energy to the stage as the fun, wheeler-dealer "Uncle Max" Detweiler and scenes with Jessica Karauria as the beautiful, elegant and cultured business Executive, Elsa Schraeder are slick. Karauria embodies the character of Elsa, her poise, expression and commanding vocal are intimidating and a beautiful foil for the sweet and straight-forward Maria. Elston, on the other hand, although commended for playing to the audience, hams up his role a little too much at times and his interactions, particularly with a Nazi SS Officer (an aggressive Senuka Sudusinghe) in the Second Act, undermine the necessary introduction of true fear and menace.

Capt. Von Trapp's children on the night I attend are perfectly cast and very talented. Friedrich (a confident William Bain) trying desperately to please his father, Micayla Clough is the sweet-natured Louisa, Nyjah Rohloff is charming and self-important as Kurt, Addy Stone the outspoken bookworm Brigitta, Kenzie Stone, a quiet and shy Marta and Beatrice Holt as an adorable Gretl. The children work well in ensemble, look gorgeous, sing harmonies thoroughly and realise the truly heart-breakingly beautiful moments with skill.

Anabel Jamieson (Liesl) is a stunning young woman who brings her love of Musical Theatre, talent as a singer-songwriter and dance skill to bear in a lovely and enthusiastic performance of a girl on the brink of womanhood. She is adeptly supported by Isaac Andrews who sustains a fully-realised, complicated characterisation of Rolf Gruber throughout while showcasing his expertise in both song and dance. "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" is a charming highlight although more care could have been taken to make sure that the choreography underpins the score.

The ensemble works well together and they have worked hard to master the complex movement of set pieces but it is Tania Parker as the Mother Abbess who steals the zenith with a stellar opera vocal and emotional rendition of "Climb Every Mountain".

Costume is well-suited to the production and the colour palette although some were not quite fitted enough for formal occasions of the era. The peach-wedding dress for Gavigan-Binnie was absolutely gorgeous, the children dressed as would be expected and Elsa always looked immaculate. Make-up and hair by Jade Bennett was pleasingly 1930s in conceptualisation and complimented the overall vision.

In general, this was a good, community production of a perennial favourite but what makes it striking is the phenomenal set, staging, lighting and ingenious transitions. Diamond-shaped drops as chandeliers, back-lit snow-covered mountains, Nazi flags and red lighting, the bright and imaginative staging of "The Lonely Goatherd", slick movement of large, interlocking frames and beautiful, romantic, garden setting and sunset lighting.

The excellent conceptual set, staging and complimentary lighting brought a freshness and excitement to a well-known story that allowed the audiences to reconnect with their love of this musical on a personal level. On the night I attended many were obviously moved to happy tears.

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From This Author Lindsey Rusling