Review: The Sound of Music at New Wimbledon Theatre – It’s as old as the hills, but still a drop of golden sun

The latest touring production of the world-famous musical reaches the end of the road at the New Wimbledon Theatre this week.

Who doesn’t know the story of The Sound of Music, that it was based on real events, or at least one of its well-known songs?

Those who have never seen the stage show must surely have seen the 1965 film, even if not in its entirety.

The unlikely setting for one of the greatest family musicals of all time is Austria in 1938 immediately prior to the Second World War.

The story concerns a young would-be nun (Maria) who likes to sing and is sent to experience real life once more before taking her vows.

As governess to seven children, Maria falls in love first with her young charges, and then with their strict, widowed naval officer father (Captain von Trapp).

TV names Lucy Byrne, a runner-up on BBC talent show The Voice, and Andrew Lancel, of Coronation Street and The Bill fame, lead the cast.

For many the role of ‘Maria’ will always belong to Julie Andrews who immortalised it on film.

Like so many Maria’s before her, Byrne is styled to look more than a little like her renowned predecessor.

There is something too in her crisp English speaking voice and clearly enunciated singing voice that rings familiar.

Perhaps the comparison is unfair because, with such an iconic role, audiences come in with a clear idea of how Maria should look and sound.

It’s to her credit that Dublin-born Byrne conveys such warmth and vulnerability that at times she banishes all memory of Andrews’ performance.

There was never any doubt that classically trained soprano Byrne would sing the role beautifully, the revelation is that she is such a fine actress.

As the Captain, Lancel too gives real depth to what can, in the wrong hands, be reduced to a one-dimensional character or plot device.

Lancel is not especially known for his surprisingly good singing voice but this shines on Edelweiss, sung with Maria and the children.

I confess I’m not usually a fan of children on stage but it’s hard not to be charmed by these pitch perfect young performers.

Just as well because the children lie at the heart of the story and of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s memorable score.

The show features many fine supporting performances but Lucy Van Gasse as Baroness Elsa and Pippa Winslow as stoic housekeeper Frau Schmidt deserve particular mention.

Young lovers Liesl (Annie Holland) and Rolf (Kane Verrall) are enchanting in their beautifully choreographed song and dance duet.

Nearly all the best numbers come in Act I, including the title song.

The familiar ballads just keep coming: My Favourite Things, The Lonely Goatherd, until the curtain falls after a soaring rendition of Climb Ev’ry Mountain.

Of the ten songs in Act II, four are a ‘reprise’ of earlier numbers, including Maria, Sixteen Going on Seventeen, Do-Re-Mi, and So Long, Farewell.

“When – you – know – the – notes – to – sing…” sings Maria – and it was obvious that large sections of the audience did.

I defy anyone to leave the theatre not feeling better for having witnessed love conquer all and good triumph over evil.

The Sound of Music runs at the New Wimbledon Theatre until Saturday, October 29. For more information and tickets, click here.

Image courtesy of Mark Yeoman, with thanks

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