When Oscar Hammerstein II penned the words “Climb every mountain / Till you find your dream” for the hit Broadway musical “The Sound of Music”, he probably did not expect it to become one of the best loved songs of all time.
Rogers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music”, directed by Jerome L. de Silva, recently concluded a successful 10-day run at the Lionel Wendt Theatre (October 17 to 26). The lead roles were played by different actors and actresses on alternate nights and Dinushka Jayawickreme and Aanjanee Jayasooriya, who played the Mother Abbess, stood out, winning the audience with their powerful performance.
Anjanee playing the role of Mother Abbess. Pic by Shehal Joseph. (www.kanabona.com)
For Dinushka, it was a completely new experience, as it was her first stage appearance. She said it was hard at first to get into the “strict but motherly” mindset of the character, but it helped when she realised that the Mother Abbess saw a lot of herself in Maria, and that she was in fact an older version of the incorrigible young woman.
Aanjanee said she had auditioned simply to be a part of the “Workshop” experience, and was thrilled when she landed the role. Playing the regal, authoritative nun was a challenge, and she analysed every line spoken by the character trying to understand why she behaved the way she did and said the things she said.
Both young actresses said they felt the pressure of knowing the audience would be comparing them with actress Peggy Wood, who played the Mother Abbess in the film version but focused on being true to the character envisioned by Rogers and Hammerstein.
“I saw her as a godly sort of woman who realised early that Maria did not have the calling to become a nun,” mused Aanjanee. Dinushka agreed, adding: “I didn’t much like the role at the beginning, because it is a complete contrast to who I am.”
The two young actresses became good friends, helping and supporting each other throughout the rehearsal and performance period, one staying backstage and being on hand when the other was performing on stage.
Not know what to expect when they got involved in the production, they were pleasantly surprised by the relaxed and friendly ambience. “We had so much fun,” said Dinushka. “We called ourselves the Sisterhood of Bad Habits!”
“I felt very much at ease,” agreed Aanjanee. “All of them, including Shanuki de Alwis [one of the actresses playing Maria], went out of their way to help us and make us feel completely at home.”
Jerome de Silva’s expert direction and the support of Surein de S. Wijeyeratne and Akhry Ameer made it all possible, they said.
For many in the audience, the highlight of the show was “Climb Every Mountain”, the moving song sung by the Mother Abbess when she attempts to send Maria back to the man she has unwittingly fallen in love with. The song, which is very demanding with its extended vocal range, was flawlessly delivered by both actresses. In fact, it was their biggest challenge in the show.
“Getting to the end of the song was such a relief,” said Dinushka. “The rest of the show was much less stressful after that.”
Dinushka joined the Merry-An Singers at the age of six, following in her older sister’s footsteps.
“Our parents realised early that we could sing and encouraged us to develop our singing skills,” she said. She was also a member of the choir of Holy Family Convent, Bambalapitiya and one of the original members of the award-winning choral group Soul Sounds, which was founded by Soundarie David in 2004. She continues to sing with Soul Sounds as one of their lead soloists. She credits her grounding in acting to the Wendy Whatmore Academy, where she continues to study speech and drama.
Now a first year student in the Faculty of Arts of the University of Colombo, Dinushka says she has no fixed plans for the future. “I’m not much of a planner. I take life as it comes!”
Aanjanee, who holds an ATCL Diploma in teaching speech and drama, is an experienced actress, having appeared in a number of stage productions: “Bengal Bungalow” (2004); “Rag – The Preview” (2004); “War Letters” (2005), and “Godspell” (2005).
“I have always loved singing,” she says, adding that her first exposure to music was with the church choir. Six years ago she began voice training under Adele Beling Bibile, and has since won awards for singing.
She too is a member of Soul Sounds. A teacher by profession, Anjanie works with autistic children and teaches speech and drama part-time.
The production is over, but Dinushka and Aanjanee are both grateful for the opportunities they were given and the new friendships they forged.