Review: The Sound of Music

By John Jeffay, September 16, 2011
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Palace Theatre, Manchester

It is the nuns-and-Nazis musical that everyone seems to love, and it is not hard to see why.

There is a favourite thing for everyone, from my excitable seven-year-old companion, who joined me at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, to the weariest geriatric.

To say The Sound of Music is a classic hardly does justice to Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1959 masterpiece. The songs are so embedded in our psyche that we will happily sing, or yodel, along to Sixteen Going on Seventeen, The Lonely Goatherd, Climb Ev'ry Mountain, Edelweiss or So Long, Farewell.

So from the moment Maria is reprimanded for unauthorised singing in the abbey garden, producer Andrew Lloyd Webber and his Really Useful Group are on to a winner.

This is the touring production of the West End show that starred Connie Fisher. She won the BBC1 talent contest How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? in 2006, but quit last month because of a serious throat problem.

But do not let that put you off. Her replacement Verity Rushworth has infectious energy and a permanent grin as wide as a grand piano. She is perfectly cast as the governess, bouncing around and giggling maternally with her repressed young charges.

It is her task to melt the ice-cold absentee father, Captain von Trapp (Jason Donovan), and bring some warmth and humanity into a house controlled with military authority by the blow of his whistle.

Donovan's role requires a certain stiffness and formality. And a peculiar Austrian accent. All of which he does admirably. But when the mood lightens, he doesn't. And that really shows opposite such an unstoppable Maria. His gravelly vocals are unremarkable, too.

But let's not be too picky. The von Trapp children are suitably engaging, Marilyn Hill Smith as the Mother Abbess belts out Climb Ev'ry Mountain with a gusto rarely seen inside a convent, and Martin Callaghan camps it up as the wheeler-dealer Max Detweiler.

The show has such a rich history, from its Broadway debut to Julie Andrews on screen and beyond, that it must be tempting to tinker, to embrace some new fad or fashion to make it sparkle. Fear not. This is everything you would expect. Songs to savour, choreography by the renowned Arlene Phillips and great sets.

It works on every level, as a simple love story, as an uplifting reminder that music soothes away all problems (even, fancifully enough, Nazism), and in a more adult way, as an exploration of sexual awakening as the chaste Maria falls for von Trapp's charms.

My young companion buried her face in her hands when the two of them kissed – "have they finished yet?" – and quibbled over the order of songs. But having seen the film many times her verdict was the stage version was: "Very, very good".

    Last updated: 9:33am, September 16 2011