The Sound of Music Review | Palace Theatre | Manchester
Set in 1938 Austria, the captivating story of the real-life Trapp family singers is back on tour after commemorating its 50th anniversary. Between its 1961 Broadway release and the 1965 film adaptation, The Sound of Music has won a Grammy, Tony’s and numerous Academy Awards. Fusing unforgettable songs with a heart-warming story, the musical, based on the book written by Maria von Trapp remains a consistent success.
With a set four layers deep, The Palace Theatre keeps Austria firmly framed in the background and on the outskirts of its looming backdrops. With two main settings, Gary McGann’s has created crisp, realistic locations that appear to materialise from thin air. The detailed sets immerse the audience in Maria’s world as she flits between the Church and the Trapp family estate. It is a simplified portrayal that follows the postulant into her new role as governess to a widowed naval captain’s seven children.
A paint by numbers direction offers an odd time-lapse rendition of the story and layers the music of Rogers and Hammerstein over much of the dialogue. It is placed in between set changes and put on repeat over the top of scenes to keep audiences upbeat. It is a joyous, easy-going portrayal that allows you to hear your favourite track, sung at least twice. Through the power of music, Maria bonds to the Trapp family and the seven children perform their group numbers Do-Re-Me and So Long, Farewell with gusto.
Enrapturing and emulating a Maria that would make Julie Andrews proud is Lucy O'Byrne. O'Byrne is particularly funny and sweet alongside the children whose cuteness levels have been dialled up to 11. From Maria swinging her legs off a table to pillow fights and of course, standing on the stairs in formation, the performances are believable and uplifting. Mother Abbess played by the marvellous Megan Llewellyn was subtle and firm in her performance, offering two high range renditions of Climb Ev'ry Mountain and making medleys far more memorable. To counter the audience comparisons to the film, a live band helps sprinkle the soundtrack with a sense of urgency and brings power to the upper range hits.
Scenes with Llewellyn and O'Byrne reflected Maria’s zest for life, love and music far more than moments with Neil McDermott (Captain von Trapp) whose accent and performance played into the pantomime aspects of the production. Alongside secondary characters that offered confused and jarring moments in the show. Nazi generals were eventually hissed and booed by the audience as their rude, but unthreatening performances were shrugged off. There were also two songs unused in the film that were sung by the Captains love interest and uncle Max. The songs are lovely but unwarranted considering the lack of any real dialogue.
The questionable choreography left the production looking stilted. Unable to replicate the scale of its nature driven film adaptation, the small cast and their subtle surroundings gave surprisingly limited movement. The dancing was often left to the children and other than the signature So Long, Farewell sequence, everything was in a fixed position, with each number mainly consisting of head nodding while sat on a bed, chair or the floor.
To convey a sense of adventure and action this elegant production blends mesh screens, projection and lighting. The rich, gold colouration of the Trapp family home mix with the dark shadows of the church, where clever use of lighting illuminates Mother Abbess and Maria from the heavens.
The Sound of Music live offers an easily digestible message and relatable performances from O'Byrne and Llewellyn that keep this classic show moving. Although its hits songs make the show an instant smash, the success of this production rests heavily on the charm of its young performers and the shoulders of Maria.