This is the 50th anniversary year of the release of the film version of The Sound of Music that forever immortalised its true tale of a singing nun turned child governess. Set against the rise of Nazism in 1930s Austria, she melts the heart of a naval captain, who is also a single father of seven kids, and in turn melts the hearts of the audience.
But there’s no better way to celebrate that over-sentimentalised film than to revisit the rather grittier original stage incarnation, which first premiered on Broadway in 1959, in a sumptuously lavish production that’s gorgeous to look at and even better to listen to.
Martin Connor’s faithful (but not slavish) production delivers the expected set-pieces in a series of beautiful designs by Gary McCann – the stained glass severity of the convent, the rolling hills rendered in painterly vistas that provide the playground for Maria and her new family, the imposing home of the captain and the Swastika-flagged concert stage of the Saltzburg Festival. But beyond the art, it also gets to the captivating human heart of the drama, so exquisitely caught in those forever ravishing Rodgers melodies, with an unforced simplicity, which is mainly to do with great casting and glorious singing.
There are towering operatic vocals from Jan Hartley’s Mother Abbess that climb every note as she climbs ev’ry mountain and grounds the serious musical qualities that musical director David Steadman brings so effortlessly to the show. But the show has to be about more than songs sung beautifully; it has to have a credibility, too.
And here there’s a real freshness to the radiant loveliness of Danielle Hope – discovered via reality TV casting to play Dorothy in the Palladium’s Wizard of Oz – who seems to be channelling Julie Andrews in the unforced clarity of her vocals as Maria, while Steven Houghton brings the right buttoned-up Teutonic severity to the captain that makes his eventual mellowing really powerful.
The show can sometimes feel both irretrievably dated and sluggish, but not here. Resistance is futile when presented with the shimmering charms of a supporting cast that also includes the luxury casting of ravishing Chicago alumni Sarah Soetaert as Elsa Schraeder and the hilarious Howard Samuels as concert fixer Max Detweiler.
We’re never too far away from an R&H production – there’s also a current UK tour for Oklahoma!, Opera North is reviving its production of Carousel soon and a big Broadway revival of The King and I is about to open – but this tremendous staging will hold its own in the best company.