STAGE: The Sound of Music – Artscape, Cape Town
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
IF YOU missed the Johannesburg leg of the new South African touring production of The Sound of Music, which arrived here after having first toured abroad for several months, note that you still have a chance to catch it at Cape Town’s Artscape Opera theatre from May 6 to 27. And before you ask, no, Durban is not on the itinerary.
I was lucky enough to be given tickets for one of the final Johannesburg performances at the weekend at the Teatro, Montecasino, and was largely delighted by a production that never fails to excite audiences and which earned a standing ovation the night I was in.
The touring musical is a revival, with fresh casting, of the hit 2014 touring South African production and I was excited about seeing charming Carmen Pretorius as singing nun Maria. I have enjoyed Pretorius since she was a teenager playing Dolly Levi in the Northcliff High School production of Hello Dolly!, staged years ago at Durban’s Playhouse Drama.
Sadly, I did not get to see Pretorius. Her understudy, Sanli Jooste, appeared as Maria the night I was in. But no disappointments there – the young Nicole Kidman lookalike did a mighty fine job, both vocally and dramatically, in one of the most loved roles in musical theatre.
Jooste, fondly remembered as blonde Joanna, daughter of the demon barber, in KickstArt’s Sweeney Todd, appeared as Maria opposite Andre Schwartz, who also filled the role of Captain von Trapp in the 2014 production.
And this brings me to my big gripe about this production. Schwartz, frankly, was a huge disappointment. His acting, certainly on the night I was in, was wooden, his Afrikaans accent making occasional jarring appearances; and his lack of chemistry with his co-stars was most surprising. Even his rendition of the popular Edelweiss, for me anyway, was just okay.
Fortunately there are enough sparks from the rest of the cast, and some truly wonderful moments, to erase this blot on an otherwise fine and fun production.
It may not be in the same league as the larger-scaled Durban Playhouse production from 2016, an excellent show which starred the sublime Lynelle Kenned and charming Craig Urbani in the lead roles, but this production, modelled on the 2009 London revival of the musical, certainly succeeds.
The Rodgers and Hammerstein classic about a novice nun who finds challenges, happiness, love and danger when she becomes a governess to the seven children of a stern Navy Captain during the late 1930s, is packed with some of the most memorable songs in musical theatre history.
Presented in South Africa by Pieter Toerien, David Ian and The Really Useful Group, this production might surprise some fans of the film when they find The Lonely Goatherd and My Favourite Things in scenes different to that in the 1965 movie that starred Julie Andrews. That is because the film-makers took the liberty of placing them elsewhere in the story. The stage musical, remember, precedes the film.
Also worth noting is that this production, as did the Playhouse spectacle in 2016, features songs specifically written for the film and now added to the stage show – I Have Confidence and Something Good.
In addition, this show features two songs not included in the film, both performed by Von Trapps’ would-be fiancee, Baroness Elsa Schräder. She is well played by Durban’s Haylea Hounsom-Heyns, who is suitably elegant, looks a million dollars in some of the show’s best costumes, and gets to well showcase her soprano.
Other standout moments in this production include the children’s imaginatively choreographed So Long, Farewell and their Do, Re, Mi (with Maria); the amusing How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? by the nuns; and a very sweet Sixteen Going on Seventeen, with Michael McMeeking as novice Nazi and telegram man Rolf and blonde Zoe Beavon as mature-looking 16-year-old, Liesl.
Then, of course, there is the showstopping wedding scene and Alleluia by the nuns, as well as Janelle Visagie’s power moment as the Mother Abbess, performing Climb Ev’ry Mountain, which gives goosebumps and draws rapturous applause.
Among the large cast are Jonathan Taylor as comical Max Detweiler, Von Trapp’s friend, a music agent and producer; and the charming duo of Rika Sennett and Malcolm Terry as, respectively, Von Trapp’s busy housekeeper and droll butler. Also keep a look out for Durban’s Rory Booth (Donkey in KickstArt’s Shrek the Musical) as a member of the ensemble.
The Sound of Music runs 15 minutes shy of three hours, with an interval. Tickets range in price from R100 to R500.