von Trapp and Maria

Andrew Lancel as Captain von Trapp and Emilie Fleming as Maria with the von Trapp children

 The Sound of Music

Wolverhampton Grand


What a cracker of a show as Bill Kenwright brings Broadway razzle dazzle to the Black Country with this triumphant return of an old favourite.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s tale of the von Trapp family might be 61 years old but it is as fresh as ever and as alive as those Salzburg hills we hear so much about in this sparkling production.

Emilie Fleming is a delight as Maria. She has that required look of innocence, with a little bit of fire behind her sparkling eyes and what a voice. Each note pitch perfect, clear as a bell and you can hear every word.

I have seen enough Marias to form a small choir over the years and she is one of the best.

Andrew Lancel makes a somewhat aloof Captain von Trapp. He is perhaps best known as baddy Frank Foster from Coronation Street but has a huge catalogue of theatre behind him and it shows.

He is a not particularly likeable Austrian ex-submariner in Act I, somewhat distant with both staff, his seven children (there was not a lot to do in the Austrian evenings before TV and Sky presumably) and governess Maria until Maria gives him a piece of her mind, that is. And he really comes into his own in Act II standing up to the annexing of Austria in the 1938 Anschluss, an event 82 years ago to the day next week.

It is a well-balanced performance of contrasts and Lancel also sports a fine baritone voice.

maria and children

Maria teaches the von Trapp children Do-Re-Mi

When it comes to voices though, we have Megan Llewellyn as the Mother Abbess. There are singers and then there are opera singers and the two are worlds apart, a little like pianists and concert pianists.

Llewellyn is Welsh National Opera for a start, and with a voice that could not only climb but probably blow away any mountain in its path. She gives the show’s anthem some real, industrial strength wellie with superb control, power and command to end both acts.

She is also fun as the Abbess with a sort of twinkle and, one suspects, a bit of history behind her character. I saw her in the role two years ago and she was as memorable at the Grand as she was then. A phenomenal performance.

Howard Samuels is fun as Max, the third secretary, soon to be first, at the Ministry of Education, a man who finds agreeing with everyone, no matter how disagreeable, a way to survive, although survival might be a problem after he follows his conscience at the end.

Then there is Clelia Murphy, an Irish TV star, who has some nice touches of disdain for the lower orders, such as Maria, and of course, children as Elsa Schraeder, the wealthy widow from Vienna who has her talons in the good captain.

von trap nazi

A sinister backdrop to the Kaltzberg Festival as Georg von Trapp sings Edelweiss


Her admiration for the Nazis is going to be her downfall in that regard and she was not alone with regard to Nazi sympathisers who saw a greater Germany, under Austrian Adolf Hitler, as an attractive option.

There is good support from Michael Anderson as the telegraph boy who has the hots for the eldest of the von Trapp children, Liesl, played by Nicole Farrar.

The pair’s duet of Sixteen going on seventeen is a delight. The duo have lovely voices and can really dance, which is not always the case in that scene. Anderson is light on his feet and dances as if born to it, matched by the equally talented Farrar. His character changes in the second act, but he is another one who comes good when it matters.

The rest of the children play their parts well with three teams alternating and there is good support from Jon De Ville as Franze, the butler, Wendy- Lee Purdy as housekeeper Frau Schmidt and Georgina Hagen, Zoë Ann Bown and Katie Shearman as sisters Berthe, Margaretta and Sophia, senior nuns advising on the future of postulant Maria.

The standard of singing throughout from soaring Church choral to simple folk songs such as Edelweiss is outstanding, aided by an excellent 10-piece orchestra under musical director Jeremy Wootton.

Edelweiss, incidentally, was the last song written by Oscar Hammerstein who was to die of stomach cancer in 1960, nine months after The Sound of Music opened on Broadway.

The whole production is lifted by Gary McCann’s setting which could have been lifted from a grand opera with soaring pillars for the abbey, stained glass windows, elegant staircases and a terrace all dropping in or flying out from above with never a break in action.

It is also lit quite beautifully by Nick Richings, lighting being something usually not noticed unless it goes wrong. He had a clever use of follow spots from the flies, which you don’t see every day.

Over the past few years Bill Kenwright’s productions have become bigger budget affairs and it shows, West End production values coming on tour. This production will delight Sound of Music fans and should make many new ones along the way. The hills of Wolverhampton will be alive with familiar music to 07-03-20.

Roger Clarke


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