I wouldn’t say I’m the biggest fan of musicals. Sure, I like a bit of Les Mis now and then. And Phantom’s not too bad either. But, let’s get one thing straight. I LOVE The Sound of Music. It’s curious that the release of the 1961 Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway production, the musical following the [...]


My favourite musical right here in Colombo

Francesca Mudannayake was at Nelum Pokuna on opening night, February 14, when it came alive with The Sound of Music

Heartwarming moments: The thunder scene and below right, the VonTrapp family singers. Pix courtesy Cinnamon

I wouldn’t say I’m the biggest fan of musicals. Sure, I like a bit of Les Mis now and then. And Phantom’s not too bad either. But, let’s get one thing straight. I LOVE The Sound of Music. It’s curious that the release of the 1961 Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway production, the musical following the life of Maria Von Trapp and her time taking care of seven children during the Second World War was met with less than favourable reviews. But it has stood the test of time with its most famous adaptation being the 1965 film version. Starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, the movie has held a special place in my heart for so long and the music always produces a warm, nostalgic feeling. I have revised the dialogue, memorised all the songs, and once, on a visit to Salzburg I took (read: dragged) my parents to some of the filming locations. Yeah, you get the picture.

As part of a partnership between Cinnamon Life and Broadway Asia International, I was more than pleased to see that The Sound of Music would run for four nights in Colombo featuring a mixture of its touring cast and young local actors. Although I appreciate that the cost of producing a show of this magnitude is not at all cheap, I had a slight problem with the price points of the tickets (the most expensive being Rs.20,000 and the cheapest being Rs. 3500). I feel that selling tickets at these rates limits who can come and actually see the musical and is something which should be revised if Cinnamon plans to host more international shows. The arts should be accessible to everybody.

Nevertheless, the actual show was pleasant and enjoyable. Without being too grandiose, the stage design did its job of emphasising the main points of the show – a tilted stage and smoke to indicate the expansive hills, or sliding sets giving way to marble staircases, French windows and a chandelier to indicate Maria’s incongruity in the Von Trapp household.

Maria and the Lankan children who joined the cast at a rehearsal. Pic by Sameera Weerasekera

The Nelum Pokuna hasn’t always been notable for its acoustic capabilities but the sound design for this show was impeccable (man, that thunder!) and it was a joy to hear a full orchestra. Due to various restrictions, local productions haven’t always been able to invest in full orchestras, so this was a treat! It would be nothing, though, without the stellar singing. Particular mention goes to the Mother Abbess’ (Janelle Visagie) rendition of “Climb Every Mountain” which was a noteworthy performance.

At the centre of the show is Maria (Carmen Pretorius) whose performance perhaps didn’t stand out as much but was carried out with ease and lightheartedness. There’s a wonderful moment when she sneaks a bite of a sandwich and is happened upon by the devious Baroness Schraeder who begins to ask her questions, much to Maria’s dismay as she comically replies with a mouth full of bread. Maria is a lovable character (at times sickly sweet) but I feel Pretorius really came into her own right towards the end as she displayed wonderful maturity as the new head of the family.

A high note: Janelle Visagie as the Mother Abbess

Another integral part of the show were the seven Von Trapp children – high-spirited, vivacious and though the singing wasn’t always note-perfect, it was performed with a lot of heart. I had a particular soft spot for Gretl (Senushki De Silva) who delivered an endearing performance as the youngest Von Trapp. Additionally, due to the nature of her character, Tashiyana Devarajan stood out as the inquisitive, curious, and brutally honest Brigitta. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I was as enamoured of Liesl’s characterisation (Zoe Beavon) which fit into the stereotypical trope of a sixteen-year-old who spends her time either giggling (shrieking?) vociferously as Rolf spins her around the stage, or crying (wailing?) as Rolf leaves her for the Nazis. It was all a bit too much and could have done with a more tender approach. But speaking of Rolf (Michael McMeeking), although he is quite an understated character I enjoyed his performance which displayed shades of charm, cheekiness, but also an impending sense of fear and duty in regards to the Anschluss.

My biggest gripe with the show was the pace at which it moved as it came at the expense of several character arcs. No sooner had Maria arrived at the house supposedly full of “difficult” children had she won the approval of all of them. One minute the Baroness Schraeder is engaged to the Captain Von Trapp and the next minute they’re….not engaged? Oh wait, now Maria and the Captain are engaged! The love story was too rushed for its own good, and didn’t invest time in developing some chemistry between the leads making it quite confusing as to how engaging in one dance seems to result in sparks of love. It is a shame because what the movie particularly nailed was the chemistry with the captain’s acerbic wit making for a natural match with Maria who didn’t take herself too seriously – something which I think this stage version lacked.

Nicholas Maude and Carmen Pretorius who play Captain Von Trapp and Maria pose for the press

The dialogue had the potential to be slightly awkward at moments.  For example (I’m paraphrasing here), when Maria offers a helping hand to Liesl after her rainy escapade with Rolf she says something along the lines of “You can put this on and then afterwards we can sit at the edge of my bed and have a chat”. The line is too specific. In the final scene, whilst the family are supposedly trying to escape the Nazis, the Captain stops to reminisce about the mountains “I always saw the mountains as my friends, and now they are my enemies”. While this ruminating is all well and good, the Nazis are in pursuit of him and his family so it might have been wiser to just…go.

However, the decision to focus more on the threat of Nazism following the Anschluss was a welcome addition – quite often the Captain would be at variance with his acquaintances about whether to collaborate or resist. In fact, his confusion not only lent itself to the development of his character arc but is also such a timely topic and one I’m sure everyone in the audience could relate to.  The duty of any adaptation is to capture the essence of its source material as well as bring something new to the table and I do feel this version of The Sound of Music did a good enough job of executing that.

A final note though. According to the President of the Leisure Sector of John Keells Holdings, Krishan Balendra, the aim of the show was to bring world-class entertainment to Sri Lanka in order to increase tourism and attract around five million tourists by 2025. While I think this is certainly an ambitious feat and not unattainable, I do hope that (judging by how many sponsors came through to support this event) they do not forget to fund the local arts scene which in itself has potential to exist as world-class entertainment too. Just a thought.

Andrew Lloyd Webber and David Ian’s Really Useful Group’s production of The Sound of Music presented by Cinnamon Life and Broadway Asia International ends tonight at the Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa Theatre. See www.cinnammonboxoffice .com.

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