“The Sound of Music” at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

This year’s musical at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s firm favourite The Sound of Music. Whisper it, but not everyone is a fan of the family Von Trapp, or the novice-turned-governess Maria’s journey of self-discovery: tarnished by TV, the problem to solve here is one of over familiarity. Courageously, this production demands an open mind, presenting the piece with remarkable freshness.

The Sound of Music is one of those musicals where everything is expressed in a song, and a good tune can literally be your salvation. While it’s hard to imagine a heart hard enough not to melt at the children cast as the Von Trapp infants, the real achievement is that that sweetness doesn’t become saccharine. Rachel Kavanaugh directs the show with ruthless efficiency and creates a version devoid of silly camp theatricality – no small feat when everyone is dressed as nuns and soldiers with a smattering of lederhosen.

There is an impressive simplicity that serves the show well, even managing to inject menace and tension. Kavanaugh seems to have taken Maria’s back to basic approach to music making to heart. The songs we love are delivered without fanfare and are all the better for it. And this approach is echoed by Peter McKintosh’s superb meadow-fringed set, effectively changing from convent to mansion, concert hall to mountain range with a magical minimalism.

Taking on the lead role must be an uphill struggle for any performer, but Charlotte Wakefield gambols along, sounding great, with a gawky, infectious charm. Like policemen, it seems Captain von Trapps are getting younger – surely someone with seven children has to have a tinge of grey in the hair? – but Michael Xavier has a great voice and is a virile presence on stage (remember, seven children). And who can remember the supporting characters in the much re-played 1965 film? Here, Michael Matus and Caroline Keiff make room for their roles as the Captain’s cowardly friend and sophisticated Viennese fiancée with humour and grace and a couple of decent songs. But my favourite thing? Helen Hobson as the Mother Abbess and her superfluity of nuns performing their chorus numbers with a real feeling of religiosity. A brave move that injects weight into the show and, as night falls over Austria both literally and figuratively, provides a stunning finale that has both a bang and a wimple.

Until 14 September 2013

www.openairtheatre.com

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 7 August 2013 for The London Magazine

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