REVIEW: the Sound of Music, Sunderland Empire, until June 25
The seats were alive with the sound of music as the first night this musical hit went down a storm with the audience.
Featuring BBC1’s The Voice runner-up and award-nominated Lucy O’Byrne as Maria and star of stage and screen Andrew Lancel as Captain Von Trapp, Bill Kenwright’s production of one of the greatest family musicals of all time was in one word outstanding.
With a cast of amazingly talented performers and singers as well as seven delightful young actors and actresses playing the Von Trapp children the standing ovation from the entire audience was testament to how brilliant it was.
This production of the world famous musical, based on a real-life story of an Austrian family’s escape from the Nazis during the Second World War, is beautifully staged and playing the key role of Maria, Lucy O'Byrne gets it just right.
A lovely voice and personality to match, she sparkles as the young nun who has long dreamed of becoming a nun at the Nonnberg Abbey, in Salzburg, but as a postulant she doesn't quite fit the criteria.
She loves to sing in hills and is sent from her convent to experience real life before taking her vows and falls for the stern, widowed naval officer Captain von Trapp.
The Mother Abbess sends her to be the new governess for the von Trapp family and Maria is faced with a house run with military efficiency, where singing and dancing is not allowed and where everyone must answer to the sound of a whistle.
But Maria's not known to stick to the rules and she teaches the captain's seven children - Lisel, Friedrich, Louisa, Brigitta, Kurt, Marta and Gretl - to bring music once again into their home. The children warm to her as she leads them in songs like The Lonely Goatherd and Do-Re-Me.
Though initially unhappy with the new arrangement, the captain soon remembers the joy of music and, eventually, that Maria means more to him than either of them had ever imagined.
A strong performance, too, from Andrew Lancel as Captain von Trapp, and there is a real taste of glamour from Lucy van Gasse as the stunning and wealthy Elsa Schraeder, set to be the Captain’s new wife until Maria turns up.
There are several great songs, but the loudest cheers are earned by Jan Hartley at the end of the first act. Playing the Mother Abbess, she sings climb Ev’ry Mountain with a glorious voice and enough power to start a mountain landslide. She was the stand-out performer for me, her voice is simply superb, note perfect and mesmerising - it gave me gooseqbumps.
The children are also delightful, unfailingly brilliant and completely irresistible - especially the young, quiet and softly presented Gretl and the cheeky Brigitta and Louisa. And of course Annie Holland as Liesl gives a stunning rendition of Sixteen going on Seventeen.
One of my favourite moments in the show is the captain's performance of Edelweiss at the Salzburg music festival.
It's always emotional, capturing the deep sadness he feels as he says his final farewell to Austria before fleeing the country to escape being forced to return to his military duties for the Third Reich. And as the family perform So Long, Farewell before they leave there were tears in my eyes as the true emotion of what they are doing is brought to life by their voices.
The nuns of the abbey must also be mentioned - they provided moments of comedy as well as stunning vocals which is quite a feat considering they're mostly in Latin.
And who could forget Duncan Smith as Max Detweiler who also provided some hilarious moments of comedy.
It wouldn't be possible without the fantastic band who accompany all the songs and are an integral part of the show.
The Sound of Music offers a reminder of how music brings people and communities together and how, even in dark times, it can be used as a beacon of hope.
Those are themes that have relevance, and resonance, even today.
Overall, a moving and thoroughly enjoyable performance by a talented cast.
The show is on at the Sunderland Empire until Saturday - book online at http://www.atgtickets.com/venues/sunderland-empire/