Theater review: Less campy 'Sound of Music' proves timeless in revival

Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 28 2017 11:43 PM

Carmen Pretorius as Maria in 'The Sound of Music.' Handout photo

MANILA – It isn’t called the world’s most popular musical for nothing.

Just six years after a local production of this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic had a successful extended run at Resorts World Manila, an international touring production of “The Sound of Music” opened to a standing ovation at The Theatre at Solaire on Wednesday.

The cheers were, for the most part, well-deserved. The production, based on the 2006 West End revival produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber, who even ran a televised search for the actress who will play the lead character Maria, retains much of the musical’s charm. But it also deliberately distances itself from the even more popular movie version starring Julie Andrews as the cheerful postulant who becomes a governess for a widowed captain and his seven children and later falls in love with him.

Based on the real-life story of the Von Trapp Family Singers, “The Sound of Music” boasts of widely recognizable songs that have become classics like “Do Re Mi,” the inspirational “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” and the title song. 

Webber, in his program notes, said: “(Director) Jeremy Sams and I did not want to stage a version of the movie so this script follows the original theater script with a few exceptions,” he said, citing the inclusion of two songs written for the film – “I Have Confidence in Me” and “Something Good.”

The decision to stick to the musical’s roots extended to the staging. Sams and set designer Robert Jones gave it a darker, more compact yet traditional theatrical feel. While the Von Trapp mansion and the nun’s abbey retain their grandeur, the action seemed more intimate – even in the iconic opening scene with Maria singing about the hills being alive with the sound of music. 

But the pacing also felt more brisk with the zippy scene changes, giving the production that modern flavor expected from a new revival. 

Overall, the color tones seemed far more muted for a musical known for its perkiness. The musical opens with nuns filing out of the stage holding candles, surrounding the audience with the ethereal harmonies of “Dixit Dominus.” Similarly, during the scene at the concert hall under the watchful eye of the Nazis, stormtroopers were stationed near orchestra center, lending an ominous air to an otherwise cute reprise of “So Long, Farewell.”

Indeed, this particular production feels surprisingly far more vital, especially given its reputation. “The Sound of Music” has had its share of criticism for becoming overly wholesome and too reliant on the cute antics of its child actors. This sugar-level in this production is still high for sure and but it doesn’t feel as campy anymore.

But even Webber acknowledged that “The Sound of Music” boasts “what may be the greatest popular score ever written” and “arguably contains the best-loved songs of all time.”

Carmen Pretorius and Janelle Visagie. Handout photo

In this regard, this revival also doesn’t disappoint. As Maria, Carmen Pretorius has crystal-clear tones, a charming presence and an inner spunk that works especially well in her numbers with the children.

Nicholas Maude as Captain Von Trapp shows a surprisingly tender side and a mellow tenor that adds tenderness to the family song numbers.

The younger Von Trapp children are played by Filipino kids who blend well with the international cast, display admirable professionalism and perfect harmony in the complicated riff on “Do Re Mi” and the near-solemn a capella version of the title song. 

Then there is the soothing, effortless quality of Janelle Visagie’s soprano that’s just perfect for the showpiece “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” which closes both Act 1 and the show itself, leaving the audience with an uplifting feel-good message as they leave the theater.

With such winning elements, this touring production shows why nearly 60 years after its Broadway debut, audiences continue to flock to see “The Sound of Music” again and again and again.

“The Sound of Music” runs until October 22 at The Theater at Solaire.