BWW Review: THE SOUND OF MUSIC, New Wimbledon Theatre, 25 October 2016
How do you solve a problem like reviewing The Sound of Music? It's like reviewing the Mona Lisa or the Statue of Liberty. It's always been there and always will be and, unlike interpretations of Hamlet or Hedda Gabler, it's almost impossible to update to modern dress, set in a Californian high school or do the whole thing in drag - well, there are (more) camped up versions, but they're hardly TSOM at all.
Most importantly, the audience don't want it revived, renewed and revised - they want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, as laid down in 1959 by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. And that's what we get in the last stop on this production's 2015-16 marathon tour.
Singing nuns? Check. Seven angelic children? Check. Stiff-upper-lipped Captain von Trapp? Check. Nasty Nazis? Check. Melodic Maria? Check. But just because we know what's coming, it doesn't make it any less wonderful when it arrives.
Name recognition matters in Bill Kenwright productions (he was there in the audience at Wimbledon and I bet he cried too) and television "provides" (if that's the mot juste) the two leads. Coronation Street's Andrew Lancel gives a Captain who progresses just a little too quickly for my tastes from whistle-blowing martinet to doting father and from fiance of Third Reich apologist Frau Schraeder (ice maiden Lucy Van Gasse) to husband of Maria - but, well, it doesn't really matter.
What does matter in TSOM casting is Maria, and Lucy O'Byrne, a graduate of the BBC's The Voice, is Julie Andrews-esque as the girl never destined for the monastery. She sings with crystal clear vocals and exudes lovable vulnerability tempered by generous common sense, without ever raising the eyebrow that would send the show over the edge into parody - no matter how tempting that might be after months on the road.
They get splendid support from a cast full of marvellous musical theatre voices, especially amongst the seven children who, led by Annie Holland's Liesl, time the comedy as well as they time their dance moves - director Martin Connor is to be commended for coaxing such strong contributions from the kids.
And then there are the songs. Is there a stronger score in the history of Broadway? Dazzling wordplay in the Hammerstein's lyrics ("The Lonely Goatherd" is a delight), the language of which is simple, but the impact often profound - "Edelweiss" was recently used in the dystopian television series The Man In The High Castle and analysed in detail in The Atlantic.
Has there ever been a more joyous celebration of everyday life than "My Favourite Things"? A catchier hook than Rodgers' songwriting toolkit, "Do-Re-Mi"? A more charming number than "So Long, Farewell"? And, taking it to 11, with a brilliant performance by Rebecca Caine as Mother Abbess plenty enough to prick my eyes with tears, the secular hymn to the opportunities of youth, tinged with a touch of regret, "Climb Ev'ry Mountain"?
Of course, it can all get a bit too much - we can look behind the fine ideals and see a money-making machine, we can watch Cabaret and understand a little more about the late Thirties in Mitteleuropa - but so what? The Sound of Music implores you to buy into its world and if you can't, it loses nothing - but you do.
When can I see it again, please?
Photo credit: Mark Yeoman