IT wasn’t the hills that were alive in Bristol last night as much as the Hippodrome, as song after song in The Sound of Music had people making almost as much noise off stage as on. In most musicals there are a few hits, a few standards that have made their way into the Great American Songbook, and then there are the less well known ones which some people treasure as favourite hidden gems. In this show though, almost every song is known to most of the audience, and it must be quite disconcerting to spot people mouthing, if not singing, along as you give your version.
In the role of Maria, Lucy O’Byrne shines, and is every inch the wannabee nun who falls for a Captain. I soon forgot Julie Andrews, and all those BBC Marias of a few years ago, and began to look forward to how this very talented lady would interpret the iconic songs. Her soprano voice is powerful at the top of her range with a wonderful tenderness in her lower range, which is shown off well in Something Good. She is clearly not daunted at the shoes she may be filling and it was no surprise to read that she was a soloist at the Proms last year.
I had not seen O’Byrne on television, where she was runner up on The Voice, nor had I seen Andrew Lancel, who was apparently a “super-villain” in Coronation Street, but he makes a very good Captain Von Trapp, with a lovely lyrical singing voice that blends well with O’Byrne’s, as well as the authority of his rank.
There is some good character acting on display, with panache and style from Lucy van Gasse as Von Trapp’s intended, Baroness Elsa, and well-observed comedy from Duncan Smith, whom I was privileged to see twice last year in the famous Pie Shop Sweeney, as music agent and friend of the Captain Max Detweiler.
One of the best singing voices in the show belongs to the Mother Abbess, played by Rebecca Caine, who originated the role of Cosette in Les Miserables, and has also played Christine in Phantom, but her operatic training was shown off to great effect tonight with a performance of Climb Every Mountain so powerful that I would seriously consider taking orders myself if she were my boss.
There are two groups of characters in The Sound of Music that could easily be stereotyped, but the nuns sing and act well, including a very convincing line in Latin chants, and the children, who have to work hard just to meet expectations, far exceeded mine, each bringing their own individuality to their respective Von Trapp. Of course Annie Holland as Liesl has as advantage, delivering Sixteen, Going on Seventeen with a knowing maturity, but the others are all very much part of this team, and none is any weaker than another.
Bill Kenwright has certainly put a high quality team together for this tour, and it is good to see the extremely talented band credited in the programme too, under Mike Riley as associate Musical Director. This is a slick, professional production of a show we all know so well, and it is refreshing to see it in its original medium with clever set design by Gary McCann.