Review: The Sound Of Music (Capitol Theatre)

Venue: Capitol Theatre (Sydney NSW), Dec 13 – Jan 17, 2015
Music: Richard Rodgers
Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II
Book: Russel Crouse, Howard Lindsay
Director: Jeremy Sams
Cast: Johanna Allen, Lorraine Bayly, Eleanor Blythman, Du Toit Bredenkamp, Nakita Clarke, Savannah Clarke, Cameron Daddo, Jacqueline Dark, Philip Dodd, Louis Fontaine, Erica Giles, David James, Stefanie Jones, Amy Lehpamer, Dominica Matthews, Jude Padden-Row, Marina Prior, Madison Russo
Images by James Morgan

Theatre review
The Sound Of Music premièred on Broadway in 1959, which makes it a reasonable assumption that most of us had grown up with songs from the iconic musical, figuring prominently in each of our own musical education. Maria brought music to the Von Trapps, and also to lives of millions. Our familiarity with the songs in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s masterpiece is quite unparalleled, and although some of the show’s dialogue has long become archaic, its power over our cultural consciousness is second to none.

This manifestation for an Australian touring production is a straightforward one that presents no surprises. The text is unchanged, and all the trappings of a commercial musical are delivered efficiently. Sets transform with military precision, lighting evolves endlessly to take us through every mood change, and the last note to every song decides whether or not its audience should applaud. Everything is thoroughly refined, and the experience is orchestrated to a measured and mechanical perfection, but a cast in live theatre of course, will always be susceptible to some variation, even in the most immovable of productions like this one.

In the role of Maria is Amy Lehpamer, who delivers an impossibly flawless rendition of one of the most popular musical characters of all time. There is no denying the fact that viewers will gauge any actor taking on the part against the legendary film version, but Lehpamer easily meets our expectations, with deeply impressive technical abilities and a presence so warm that every last punter in the nosebleed section cannot help but be won over. She is glorious from prologue to curtain call, with an effortlessness that only a true star of the stage can portray. Similarly fabulous is Jacqueline Dark, whose Mother Abbess is simultaneously commanding and endearing, memorable for her astoundingly powerful singing in “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”. Cameron Daddo’s vocals are thankfully adequate, and while not a scene-stealing performance, his work as Captain Georg von Trapp is often believable and surprisingly moving, aided by a cast of enchanting youngsters who play his children with irresistible cuteness and brilliant conviction.

The anti-Nazi story in The Sound Of Music provides a gravity that helps set it apart from the often excessively frivolous quality of its genre. It is ironic that the entirety of its very large cast is of Caucasian appearance, but the show’s message is unambiguous. We think about the meaning of freedom, and its primary importance in any life. We think about the magic that comes from great music and great art, and how our humanity cannot be divorced from the wonderful capacity of song that brings hope to the darkest of days. When things are not going well, we can find ourselves caged in by fear, but it is our human ability to imagine something better that gives us resilience and ingenuity. In our weakest moments, the simplest of lyrics will lift us up; “Follow ev’ry rainbow till you find your dream.”

Review: Cats (The Really Useful Group / Capitol Theatre)

catsVenue: Capitol Theatre (Sydney NSW), from Oct 30 – Nov 29, 2015
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: T.S. Eliot, Trevor Nunn, Richard Stilgoe
Book: T.S. Eliot
Director: Trevor Nunn
Resident Director: Stephen Morgante
Cast: Daniel Assetta, Amy Berrisford, Madeline Cain, Jade Hui-Wen Coutts, Christopher Favaloro, Keanu Gonzalez, Delta Goodrem, Dominique Hamilton, Ross Hannaford, Ashleigh Hauschild, Sam Hooper, Thomas Johannson, Emily Keane, Sarah Kate Landy, Bree Langridge, Tobias Madden, Matt McFarlane, Holly Meegan, Samantha Morley, Brent Osborne, Josh Piterman, Taylor Scanlan, Stephanie Silcock, Jason Wasley, Patrick Whitbread

Theatre review
Cats first appeared in London in 1981, and remains one of the world’s longest running musicals. This Australian tour is based on last year’s West End revival by its original team, with minor updates that preserve its familiar charm, while taking the show into the twenty-first century. Cats has a distinct quietness that sets it apart from the bold and brash shows of today, where humour tends to be obvious and songs are unsubtle. We are transported back to the theatrical age of Bob Fosse and Alvin Ailey, rediscovering that lost sophistication in sound and movement.

The emphasis on dance is its most glorious feature, and this energetic Australian cast executes all the show’s feline frolic with impressive athleticism, discipline, accuracy and flair. Christopher Favaloro’s turn as Mr. Mistoffelees is delightfully memorable, exceeding expectations by delivering technical excellence along with a superbly effervescent characterisation of the magical cat.

It is an exceptionally well rehearsed cast, and although vocal abilities can vary quite starkly depending on the level of dance required in roles, each performer is accomplished in their own right. Matt McFarlane as Munkustrap, the narrator and second-in-command of the Jellicle tribe, is the strongest all-rounder of the production, with a voice and physicality that has the necessary power to direct our attention at will, and a sex appeal that seems to transcend boundaries of species. The mainstream hit song “Memory” is a significant motif in the show, sung by Delta Goodrem, whose indisputable commitment to her role of Grizabella, complete with suitably raspy tones, almost delivers the goods. Goodrem’s portrayal of age and faded glory is not quite up to scratch, and her trouble with the lower registers of her song are clearly audible in spite of the pronounced reverb effect appearing quite abruptly. Nonetheless, her louder belting sections are crowd pleasing, and help make the production an unforgettable musical theatre debut for the pop star.

Frivolity will always be big business in entertainment. Masses go to musicals to forget their troubles, and for a short time, be transported and filled with wonderment. Cats is entirely fantasy, but its approach is dignified and at times, aloof. Some people will prefer dogs, but art must never aim to please everyone.