Theatre review: Sound of Music, Playhouse, Edinburgh

IT’S not exactly the same as the legendary film version of 1965; oh no, it isn’t.

IT’S not exactly the same as the legendary film version of 1965; oh no, it isn’t.

Sound of Music | Playhouse, Edinburgh | Rating ****

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Yet as the panto season fades away, there’s every reason to relish the passionate, beautifully-sung Bill Kenwright production of the original stage version that just rolled in to the Edinburgh Playhouse, and moves on to Aberdeen next week.

In all the best ways, it’s an old-fashioned evening of musical theatre, focussed tightly on the story of the restless novice nun, Maria, who - in the late 1930s - is sent from her convent in the glorious Austrian Tyrol to act as governess to the seven children of a widowed naval captain. The tale is told entirely without flashy, tech-driven visual effects. There’s light-touch choreography that rarely involves big set-piece dance numbers, and a final image of the family climbing the mountain that frankly doesn’t work; and the cast endearingly delivers the entire show in the kind of cut-glass Julie Andrews 1960s accents that have all but vanished from modern theatre.

Yet in dramatic terms, The Sound Of Music is a story with almost everything, from seven cute children and an unexpected romance, to a gorgeous setting and a strand of serious politics, as the Captain makes the difficult decision to resist the Nazi annexation of Austria; and the secret of the success of Martin Connor’s production lies in fine casting, real dramatic pace, and its superb handling of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s legendary musical score, magnificently delivered by a ten-piece band in the pit.

Lucy O’Byrne is quite possibly the best Maria since Julie Andrews herself, with a gorgeous stage presence and an absolutely stunning voice. Jan Hartley, as the Mother Abbess, almost stops the show with her thrilling version of Climb Every Mountain. The excellent Isla Carter, as the Captain’s wealthy lady friend Frau Schrader, delivers two complex songs not included in the film with tremendous panache; the children are unfailingly brilliant, and completely irresistible.

Audiences for the stage show are always going to miss Confidence, Maria’s mighty film-only anthem sung as she first marches up to the Captain’s house. Everything else, though, is more than present and correct, in this Sound Of Music; and there are much worse ways to spend a January evening than to laugh, cry and sing along with one of the great human stories of the 20th century, based on the real-life experience of the Von Trapp family, but utterly transformed, in the end, by the popular genius of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein.