Wednesday, 2 June 2010

The Sound Of Music Congress Theatre Eastbourne Connie Fisher Michael Praed Review

The Sound Of Music Tour

The Sound Of Music
 Congress Theatre
1-19th June 2010
(performance seen 2nd June)

Cast (appearance order)

The Mother Abbess Marilyn Hill Smith
Maria Rainer Connie Fisher
Sister Berthe Jane Quinn
Sister Margaretta Vivien Care
Sister Sophia Alison Guill
Frau Schmidt Jenna Boyd
Captain Georg Von Trapp Michael Praed
Franz Tony Kemp

Liesl Claire Fishenden
Friedrich Oliver Harper *
Louisa Kirsten White *
Kurt Arthur Byrne *
Brigitta Georgia Daltrey *
Marta Lauren Lee / Ruby Bridle / Summer Emery **
Gretyl Lydia Baker *

Rolf Gruber Jeremy Taylor
Baroness Schraeder Jacinta Mulcahy
Max Detweiler Martin Callaghan


Kate Batter, Clara Beauchamp, Callum Coates,
Neil Moors, Sam Newman, David O'Dell, Jennifer Owen,
Suzanne Richardson, Dominic Ridley, Simone Sauphanor


Emily Banister, Sophia Millard, Annabel Turner
Peter Dukes, Adam Galbraith, Kirk Jameson, Emma Sewell, Zoe Doano

* For this performance (2nd June)  I have tried to get the correct young actor/actress who played the part. As 3 actors (and swings) cover these young roles please advise in a comment if I've picked the wrong artist.

** I've put all 3 actresses who cover Marta as I cannot identify who played the part with complete certainty. Again please advise in comments if you can help me out.

Being honest I wasn't too sure about whether I'd enjoy this or not. The Julie Andrews movie, which we are all familiar with, I don't think I've ever managed to endure all the way through. When it is repeated at Christmas and Bank Holidays, given the choice, I would watch something else.

However, I don't think musical movies always work on the small screen. Combined with the fact that this show has had many good reviews, has a super cast, and that we were taking an elderly friend celebrating her birthday there were still good reasons to go.

I'd have been happy to come home with the opinion that it was good. I still can't believe that I'm going to say this about The Sound Of Music but I thought it was an absolutely awesome production in every aspect.

It's also the first time in a very long while I've walked into the foyer of The Congress Theatre with over half an hour to go to the start to find it heaving with people. Looking around the auditorium it appeared that only seats with a restricted view hadn't been sold. At a guesstimate that must be about 1500 people in this 1700+ capacity venue. If those figures continue daily until the show has it's last performance in Eastbourne on 19th June this musical could prove a huge success and bode well for the forthcoming Oklahoma and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang productions at the same theatre.

The set has to get a mention. The Sound of Music is the production which puts in place the set quality benchmark that all future musicals will be judged against. This totally automated scenic masterpiece really needs to be seen to be believed. No stage hands or cast here wheeling props on and off. No props large and small apparently wheel themselves on to the stage and off again. The rest of the set is equally as impressive with everything from the convent to Von Trapp mansion being recreated in believable detail. I'd like to know if these amazing regular automated changes have always worked as flawlessly as they did tonight?

 In fact the only visible blooper I saw tonight was the delightful Connie Fisher tripping over a mountain just after curtain-up. However with the grace of a true professional she avoided falling flat on her face carried on with "The Hills are Alive....." beautifully. (how apt!)
Connie Fisher star of The Sound Of Music
I may as well stay with Connie at this point. Having won Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's TV audition show "How do you solve a problem like Maria?" back in 2006 she went on to star in the West End at the London Palladium. Taking into account the number of times she has played Maria Rainer since she could probably play the role with her eyes shut if there wasn't the need to run up mountains!

Reviews on Connie have been mixed over the past 4+years with the official paid critics unable to decide whether she is awesome, just sweet, or cloned by Sir Andrew into a Julie Andrews lookalike? Whether she is too unlike Julie Andrews, too much like Julie Andrews or trying too hard to be Julie Andrews?

Actually those people aren't really the official critics are they? The official critics are the ones who pay to see the shows. They are the ones who tell others about the shows and they are the ones who ultimately decide whether an artist and a show is any good. There were around 1500+ critics in attendance last night and I did not hear a single negative comment on any aspect of this show. All I heard was praise and lots of it!  

My thoughts on Connie? I thought she was incredible. The role of the confused, sweet, singing nun suits her perfectly. The acting was great, the vocals were lovely and that's all that matters. I feel I should mention here that at certain performances Maria is played by Kirsty Malpass. I expect Kirsty is just as impressive as Connie but if it is Connie you want to see I would check with your venue that you have a Connie Fisher Performance.

Michael Praed star of The Sound Of MusicConnie's main co-star is Michael Praed who I must admit I used to thoroughly enjoy his starring role as Robin of Loxley in Robin Of Sherwood back in the early 80's (doesn't time fly when you're getting old?!). The role of Captain Georg Von Trapp is about as far removed from Robin Hood as you are going to get. I don't remember Robin bursting into song, although "Edelweiss" may have entertained his Merry Men.
Actually I was really impressed with Michaels vocals and although I jested in the previous sentence the gentle song, Edelweiss, was performed beautifully led by Michael who strummed happily on the guitar at the same time.

I am sure anybody who has seen this cast can appreciate I could rave on about all of them. I honestly couldn't fault a single one. Where would I start? Marilyn Hill Smith's vocals? Martin Callaghan's comedy? The excellent acting of Claire Fishenden and Jacinta Mulcahy? Then there's the younger children. They were all utterly brilliant actors and singers. Although I really ought to mention tiny Lydia Baker who melted the hearts of a complete audience as she gave a formidable performance as the youngest, sweetest and cheekiest child, Gretl.

Of course underneath all the sweet songs in The Sound Of Music there is a serious story about the Nazi's planned invasion of Austria. It is a clever production that can leave you on a complete high at the end of what is, after all, based on very serious times in world history.

It was lovely to see that both Connie and Michael were happy to take time meeting those who stayed to see them. Signing autographs and happily posing for photos with everything from little children to middle-aged theatre going amateur reviewers!

Would I now watch the movie in full having seen this show? No. It still doesn't appeal. Given the chance would I watch this show again? Too right I would. So don't discount this musical just because you think the movie is a sickly irritating repeat, the show is nothing like it!

By the way the programme is excellent value (£5) compared to most others. It is an extremely high quality publication with plenty of factual information.

An impeccable cast, an outstanding show and a set that is probably the most talked about in recent times.
Judging by the numbers going to see this show on it's tour the success is set to continue.

5 out of 5 The Sound Of Music with Connie Fisher and Michael Praed

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