Theatre Review: The Sound of Music - Edinburgh Playhouse ✭✭✭✭

The Sound of Music

Review by Anne Mackie

Before we start this review, let me lay my cards on the table. I LOVE ‘The Sound of Music’. It’s categorically one of my favourite things (if you pardon the pun!) and if I had a pound for every time I watched it, I’d be hugely wealthy. There. I said it. I’m *that* person. Now we can continue…

The current tour, backed by Bill Kenwright, pulls out all the stops as it re-tells the famous and much loved narrative of nuns, Nazis, and a world-famous singing family as they escape to freedom when their beloved Austria becomes part of the Third Reich at the start of the Second World War.

In the title role, Lucy O’Bryne (of ‘The Voice’ fame) plays a wonderful Maria, supporting a stunning soprano vocal and naturally infectious chemistry with the seven Von Trapp children. At times, O’Bryne appeared a little stiff as she struggled to capture Maria’s free spirit and naïve nature but her vocal flair more than made up for it as she hit all the big money notes made famous by Dame Julie Andrews in 1965 film. Unfortunately her co-star, Gray O’Brien (Coronation Street, Taggart), as the hard-faced Captain Von Trapp failed to appease in the same fashion. O’Brien’s interpretation was somewhat too jovial for the cold-hearted widower as he supported a vocal ability that appeared restricted and unnatural. As such, the chemistry between the two was a little false and artificial. A shame, when the driving force of the musical is focused on this element. Fortunately, the Von Trapp children, played by an array of well-tuned child actors, blew away these cobwebs as they proved the sincere heart of the famous Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. 

However, it was Jan Hartley as the Mother Abbess who truly stole the show. Hartley exuded warmth and wisdom from the offset but it was her rendition of the soaring Climb Every Mountain that set her in the frontline. A goosebump moment, if e’er there was one! Special mention must also go to Isla Carter as the possessive Baroness Elsa Schraeder who played the role with poise and panache as she injected well-received elements humour into her portrayal whilst carrying a solid and well-grounded vocal.

What the production was lacking, however, was a larger ensemble. A few more nuns ambling in the abbey scenes, in addition to a couple of extra performers in the Grand Waltz to truly enhance the lavish party scene at the Von Trapp villa. The ensemble energy is key to any musical, particularly those from the ‘Golden Era’ of theatre; an element Kenwright missed out on in this revival.

Aesthetically, the production is a visual treat. The lavish set, designed by Gary McCann, is a framed affair which smoothly shifts from convent cloisters to opulent Von Trapp villa (with a sweeping staircase centerpiece). The stage structure is expertly detailed to perfection and encapsulates the story to a tee. Additionally, cast are costumed beautifully thanks to Head of Wardrobe, Scott Sheady who depicted a rich Austrian vibe in his material.

Naturally, the difference between the film adaption and stage revival of this beloved musical is huge, particularly with regards to musical numbers. What Kenwright’s production lacked was the inclusion of up-tempo number I Have Confidence which sees Maria take her journey from the abbey to the Von Trapp villa. Understandably, this number was written for Julie Andrews in the 1965 film and as such, is not included in the original score. It would have been of benefit for Kenwright to purchase the rights to the number, which would have undoubtedly brought an energy to the musical that was otherwise missing.

The Sound of Music is a tale of love, hope and freedom; offering the promise that if you have faith and perseverance, you can follow every rainbow, till you find your dream. Half a century after its release on screen, and 56 years on from its stage debut, The Sound of Music unquestionably remains a classic benchmark in musical theatre. Now, as it celebrates 56 going on 57, Kenwright proves that The Sound of Music is still a long way from its final so long, farewell, and this touring revival is a veritable testament to that theory. 

Beg, borrow or steal a ticket to see this wonderful production reliably solve a problem like Maria…it’s bound to be one of your favourite things!

‘The Sound of Music’ runs until 9th January 2016 at the Edinburgh Playhouse Theatre. For tickets and information visit the Edinburgh Playhouse website.