BWW Review: THE SOUND OF MUSIC Makes Your Heart Sing
Manila, Philippines--Every generation, past or present, knows what a great musical is: it's one that's so hauntingly memorable, its score and plot reflective of the time or the aspirations of the time. Such is "The Sound of Music" whose songs and romantic narrative have haunted us to this very day, since its November 16, 1959 Broadway opening.
To us who grew up on its music, seeing it on stage is like reliving distant pieces of our young lives. Those moments when Do-Re-Mi, Edelweiss, Sixteen Going on Seventeen, My Favorite Things, Climb Ev'ry Mountain, and the title song became anthems to so many of us for so many different reasons.
On the gala night of "The Sound of Music" (Sept. 29), the memories came flooding back--in gusts and waves--and the tears and the standing ovation would not have sufficed to express it all. "The Sound of Music," 56 years after, refuses to say auf wiedersehen, its saccharine-sweet romance still as delectable as ever, its songs still tugging at our hearts just as they did when we first heard them.
Romance Against Societal Dictum
On any given stage, great romantic plots are those that surmount great odds. A novice nun falling in love with a navy captain amidst the looming German Nazi domination of Austria seems to be one that might catch the fancy and curiosity of the ever-suspecting audience who has practically seen it all. Throwing in that "true story" blurb just completes the box-office come-on.
"The Sound of Music" is the true story of Maria von Trapp (played wonderfully by Carmen Pretorius), a young, eccentric, and feisty nun whose carefree outlook in life challenges and shocks the hallowed walls of the abbey. Maria sings with reckless abandon, knee scrapes and all, and it's this very special gift she brings to a rich family torn apart by grief over the loss of a mother and an impending war. Going rather more deeply, the musical beats with patriotic and familial values.
Carmen Pretorius as Maria is exhilaratingly wonderful. Her voice is an enviable combination of sweet, feisty, and tragic bravura, which allows her to leap, climb, run, and twirl from scene to scene while holding a big note. Her words and notes come across crystal clear, filling up nostalgic hearts with transcendent joy. Her portrayal is classy in depth and scope, and her tender scene with the captain (The Sound of Music Reprise) can well up eyes in the theatre. Her transition from nanny to first lady is so unbelievably portrayed--that wedding dress did turn her into royalty! She's Audrey Hepburn and Julie Andrews combined, which metaphor serves whom is up to you. But one thing is sure, Pretorius will hold your heart captive the moment she enters the stage singing the title song.
Unequivocally, there's just no escaping the charm and pipes of Nicholas Maude, who plays Captain von Trapp with palpable elegance. His rich baritone perfectly makes for a stiff but charming officer at first, and a loving and doting father the next. We might have seen similar or better roles in the King of Siam (The King and I), Frank Farmer (The Bodyguard), and Professor Higgins (My Fair Lady), but Maude genuinely holds onto his own, and that makes his portrayal just as memorable.
Janelle Visagie as Mother Abbess, let me warn you, can bring the house down, both literally and figuratively. Her Mother Abbess is impeccably portrayed with notes and nuances, both comedic and dramatic, just in the right places. But her substance as a performer comes full circle in Climb Ev'ry Mountain (final scene, Act One), which she delivers in bombastic soprano, well enough to close the first act and the whole show, if you may. That performance alone deserves a standing ovation!
Jonathan Taylor's Max Detweiler provides extra humor and suspense into the seemingly predictable narrative. A veteran of stage, TV, and film, Taylor breezes through his scenes with the experience of a seasoned actor. Meanwhile, her partner in crime Haylea Heyns plays her Baroness Schraeder rather one-dimensionally with nary a redeeming value or an iota of charm. Such portrayal robs Heyns of potential depth as an actor and empathy from the audience.
Zoe Beavon (Liesl von Trapp) and Michael McMeeking (Rolf Gruber) provide the much-needed distraction in that oh-so-familiar Sixteen Going on Seventeen, a song of puppy love and growing up angst that many millennials can relate to.
Perhaps, expected or not, the most surprising performances come from the von Trapp children --an ingenious mix of local and foreign young actors who command full audience attention in their numbers (Do-Re-Mi, So Long, Farewell). Yes, they're delightful in their march, hilarious in their naiveté, and lovable in their chutzpah. Hats-off to Kyle Rafanan (Friedrich), Quinn O'Hara (Louisa), Tory Cortez (Kurt), Rayne Cortez (Brigitta), Princess Rabara (Marta), and Alysha Africa (Gretl), and to the strong ensemble.
It's not quite often that an orchestra sounds almost perfect given the many limitations Philippine theatres have. On these limitations, great singing is often stymied by bad acoustics or sound system. The Theatre at Solaire has had its share of this challenge in the past, but on gala night, technical and acoustic systems conjured magic. With the orchestrations by Robert Russel Bennett, the musical's score sounds so fresh and crisp, thereby completing a viewer's holistic experience of the night at the theater. Suffice it to say that the orchestra, conducted by Kevin Kraak, is a star on its own.
The Legacy of Rodgers and Hammerstein
"The Sound of Music" is a piece of history in itself. From its German inception to its Broadway and Hollywood translation, the musical is a storied masterpiece enriched further by numerous anecdotes about its creators.
Perhaps the richest of these anecdotes is that of composers Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (lyricist), a formidable duo and a musical trademark of the '50s with a string of successful musicals (Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I). When first approached by Mary Martin (who originally played Maria on Broadway) and her producer-husband Richard Halliday, R&H demanded they wait. After one year, the duo deemed the project deserved an all-new score, which they provided, and to which the producers acquiesced. Martin was set to play Maria, singing an all-new score, and the rest, of course, is a ---- hit.
However, the immense popularity of the musical may be attributed to the genius of R&H whose score melds simple lyrics with remarkably singable melodies. One in his/her innocent youth could have simply sung Do-Re-Mi for its traceable melodic outline, but today may actually marvel at the genius that went behind it. Young love-struck lovers could have easily found romantic solace in Sixteen Going on Seventeen, but looking at it now may discover the psychology behind puppy love and teenage angst. Climb Ev'ry Mountain may make for a perfect karaoke belting, but who can dare question the inspiration it personifies?
On or off stage, regardless of generation, the music of R&H's "The Sound of Music" will continue to grow and blossom in everyone's heart.
The Verdict: "The Sound of Music" can still make hearts sing; you will surely leave the theatre with a nagging song or two in your head.
Produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Really Useful Company and David Ian Productions, "The Sound of Music," with book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crousse, orchestrations by Robert Russel Bennett, dance and vocal arrangements by Trude Rittman, and direction by Jeremy Sams, plays The Theatre at Solaire from September 27 to October 22, 2017.
Photos: Concertus Manila