Willoughby Theatre Company: The Sound of Music - Review by Daniel Conway
Nostalgia can be really powerful when it comes to how we judge things. Nothing will ever taste as good as the pizza from your childhood local shop, because it is more than just the pizza; it is the memory of the nights you spent with your family or friends watching movies. Nostalgia can set the bar for how we think something should be, how it should look, and, in the case of musicals, how it should sound. I say this because for many people, The Sound of Music is something steeped in nostalgia, and living up to the performance you went to as a child or the immortal performance of Julie Andrews on film can be nearly impossible. That is, of course, unless you are me, who, until last night, had never seen a production or watched the film in its entirety. I had no bar or childhood memory to compare Willoughby Theatre Company's production to, and I think that is to the detriment of any future productions I see because this is now my standard of how this show should be done.
Director Adam Haynes should be extraordinarily proud of his cast and crew. I could not fault a single moment, and every detail was just so impressive. I could not help but feel like I was looking at a storybook come to life. The set, lighting, and costuming gave a sense of whimsy that helped make this show so engrossing. Every transition was smooth, and the technical aspects of the show were impressive. Musical Director Callum Tolhurst-Close has brought out a beautiful sound from the cast and the band that is clear before the curtain even opens. The choral work of the nuns is stunning. In both the opening number and the wedding song, I gasped at how tight and clear they sounded. This quality is present throughout the show and deserves to be celebrated. Choreographer Janina Hamerlock's work also adds to the charm of this show. I was particularly charmed by the choreography in "Sixteen going on seventeen". Hamerlock and the performers captured a youthful playfulness and excitement that really elevated the number, in my opinion. This is a strong team that has created a brilliant show.
The show keeps asking you, How do you solve a problem like Maria? I think the answer to that is abundantly clear, cast Felicity Caldwell. She is quick, charming, and immensely watchable on stage. It is hard to be composed and excited, like in her early scenes with the Capitan. Caldwell's physicality did so much storytelling, and boy can she throw out a one-liner. Her voice is graceful and rich, every note was perfection and made me smile. Marcus James Hurley plays the serious and wonderful Captain Georg Von Trapp. Hurley is able to communicate this man's journey from cold and broken to healed and loving so well. His voice is exceptional in a way that catches you off guard, from the beautiful bass notes to some angelic highs, I was thoroughly impressed by this man.
The Von Trap family in this production is played by Abbey Thomas and Jimmy Chapman, who stay in the roles of Liesl and Friedrich, and a rotating cast of young people playing their siblings. On opening night, I enjoyed the performance of the Landler Cast with Lana Harmey (Loiusa), Gabriel Wright (Kurt), Chloe Brown (Brigitta), Lilou McKenzie (Marta), and Amy Mogan (Gretl). All of these young people did an exceptional job and showed the confidence and professionalism of people much older. Each member of this family shone on stage. I could spend paragraphs talking about each person individually, but in the interest of restraint, I will keep it to a few stray thoughts. Thomas's voice in the family ensemble numbers cut through so well, and her scene work was remarkable. Chapman had such an infectious joy in his physicality that made me smile, particularly when he is interacting with the younger Von Traps. Brown is a brilliant young actress who really shone in her scene informing Maria that she did, in fact, love the captain. Wright, Brown, and McKenzie work so well together and are so committed to everything they are doing. Mogan is a scene stealer who charms the pants off the audience.
I mentioned the awe-inspiring voices of the nuns previously, but it is worth repeating: I would pay good money to hear the entire nun chorus sing in concert. They are amazing. Voices aside, the nuns are so charming and joyful. This is particularly the case with Julia Brovedani, Julianne Horne, and Georgia Kokkoris during How do you solve a problem like Maria? The final nun is, of course, Tisha R. Kelemen as Mother Abbess. Kelemen has possibly one of the finest voices I have ever heard. Her rendition of Climb Ev'ry Mountain had me in chills. All of the nuns did a wonderful job of acting through their costumes, which forced them to really emote with their faces. Rounding out the featured roles is, of course, Taryn-Lea Bright as Baroness Elsa Schraeder and Clive Hobson as Max Detweiler. These two are so charming and delightful; they have a great playful energy that makes them really stand out as a duo. Both are incredible actors who kill it in their roles.
This is a slick and beautiful production filled to the brim with talented performers. Every single element is so well done and so captivating. I had never seen The Sound of Music before, but I will never forget the first time I ever saw it.
I give this production 5 rounds of Do-Re-Mi out of 5
Photos courtesy of Grant Leslie