The Sound of Music
Stage Whispers -
What a triumph for Willoughby Theatre Company!
By Carol Wimmer
The Von Trapp family has made its jubilant, musical way to Chatswood and the Concourse is alive with The Sound of Music. Heralded by a magnificent choir of fourteen nuns, they take the audience back in time to 1938 as the Third Reich invades Austria, and those who resist are swept away – unless, like the von Trapps, they have the courage to escape.
Based on that brave escape, The Sound of Music is a love story with a difference. There’s politics and history, religion and tradition, submission and defiance, lots of lovely music – and a family of seven children.
Adam Haynes obviously kept all of this in mind as he deftly and sensitively brought this very professional and moving production to the stage. There is care and sincerity in every scene. He has fostered the intimacy of a family torn apart by loss then brought together by love … and music. Yet he has also realised the humour and lightness that Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse wrote into the dialogue and Rodgers and Hammerstein made famous in the songs.
This production is one of which the whole company should be very proud. The meticulous direction is matched by Janina Hamerlok’s creative and carefully instructed choreography and Callum Tolhurst-Close’s adroit musical direction. Together they have succeeded in producing a fresh, original interpretation of a much-loved musical. Not an easy achievement when they are also managing a cast of 40, ten of whom are children!
Working with children requires care and sensitivity. Working with two different sets of children as “regulated” can be even more tricky. Characterisation, blocking, movement, songs must be explained simply and explicitly. It takes a more than good direction! It takes understanding and firm, gentle command. From discussion with some of the young cast members and their parents, Haynes and his team achieved both admirably, as well as ensuring that the young actors felt and looked confident alongside other cast members.
Haynes chose that cast with care and a perceptive eye. The rapport and sense of family that was fostered in rehearsal shines brightly in every scene.
It is Maria, the young novitiate-cum-governess to whom the children must relate most closely. She needs to be warm and empathetic. She needs to inspire respect. She also needs to be able to sing those very familiar songs! Felicity Caldwell does all of this and more. There is warmth and tenderness in her performance. It begins with her deference to the nuns at the abbey. It wraps itself around the children. It touches the heart of their father. And and reaches across the orchestra pit to embrace the audience. Caldwell creates a Maria that is her own, a Maria who fills the stage with both the “sound of music” and tender caring.
Marcus James Hurley is Captain Georg von Trapp, the wealthy widowed naval hero who has been left with seven children. Hurley finds all the contained control of this character, his sadness, his sense of responsibility and his staunch loyalty to his country. There is subtlety in the way he reveals the real intensity of the Captain’s character: his genuine love of his children; the almost bemused realisation of his feelings for Maria; his strong defiance of the German invaders. Nowhere is that intensity so clear than in his face as he sings the haunting “Edelwiess”.
His children are played by 12 young people. For rehearsal and for booking clarity, the two families are called The Ländler Cast (after the Austrian dance performed in Act 1), and the Edelweiss Cast.
In every performance Abbey Thomas and Jimmy Chapman play Leisl and Friedrich, the two oldest von Trapp children. Both are talented young performers, who bring a youthful sincerity and vitality to these special roles. They have also established a warm, convincing connection with their young siblings in both families – leading them affectionately but also providing strong exemplars of focus and control.
Lana Harmey and Helen Jordan play the mischievous, prank-playing Louisa. Gabriel Wright and Xavier Billett play the sensitive but thoughtful Kurt. Chloe Brown and Isabella Coffey are the intuitive Brigitta, while Lilou McKenzie and Cara Ryan play Marta, who wants a pink parasol for her birthday! The youngest of the children, Gretl is played by Amy Mogan and Penelope Mortimer.
How intriguing it must also have been for the directors and the older cast members to see these fledgling actors flexing their wings, becoming more comfortable and confident in their relationship with each other and their stage “father” and governess. There is a genuine warmth in the way both sets of children relate with Caldwell and Hurley – and in the way Caldwell and Hurley care about them, especially in the last scenes, as they sing together at the concert … and as they hide with the nuns in the Abbey Garden.
The nuns! Fourteen wonderful voices led by Tisha R. Kelemen as the Mother Abbess fill the Concourse with perfect harmony. Kelemen brings operatic splendour to her role, as well as the ability to find the integrity and understanding warmth of her character. I’m sure there have been few Mother Abbesses played so skilfully. Julia Brovedani is the disapproving Sister Bertha, Julianne Horne the warm-hearted Sister Margaretta and Georgia Kokkoris plays the supportive Sister Sophia.
Baroness Schraeder is played by Taryn-Lea Bright who finds the panache and flair of the wealthy widow as well as her fickleness. Bright is a skilled performer who is at home on the stage, using it confidently and effectively, whether charming von Trapp and the children, or conspiring in song with the even more fickle Max Detweiler, played by Clive Hobson.
Hobson is a strong force on the stage. He injects his Detweiler with pace and pushy over-confidence, finding all his cunning and wiliness, as well as his charm and persuasiveness. Detweiler is not a particularly nice character, but Hobson makes his charm much more memorable than his duplicity.
John Tilbrook returns to WTC as Franz, the aging factotum who served with von Trapp in the navy, and Nerida Walker is the diligent, loyal housekeeper, Frau Schmidt. Both bring belief and humour to these roles.
Rolf, the telegram boy who has won Liesl’s heart is played by Matthew de Meyrick. This is a relatively small part, but politically important to the plot and De Meyrick makes his gradual transition to Hitler Youth effectively and convincingly.
Tim Wotherspoon is Admiral von Schreiber and Mitchell Jacka the nasty Herr Zeller. They are also part of the ensemble who dance at the Captain’s gala dinner. That scene is one of the highlights of the production. The choreography is true to time and place and is explicitly rehearsed and timed. The tiny segment where eleven-year-old Kurt dances with Maria centres the scene, and the children’s goodnight song takes it to a picturesque conclusion.
Picturesque is an apt word to describe this production. The set is stunning, the lighting, designed by Tom French, makes it even more stunning, gently illuminating special moments, and working in conjunction with Callum Tolhurst-Close and his hidden, but beautifully heard orchestra, to enhance the atmosphere of darker moments.
Adam Haynes, his creatives and all those working behind the scene – and there are many, including the parents who have buoyed their young actors through late nights and reluctant mornings and even now are working behind the scenes as chaperones – have every right to be very proud of a very professional and expertly reimagined production of this classic musical.
This production is one of which the whole company should be very proud.
The Fourth Wall
Willoughby Theatre Company: The Sound of Music
By Daniel Conway
Nostalgia can be really powerful when it comes to how we judge things. Nothing will ever taste as good as the pizza from your childhood local shop, because it is more than just the pizza; it is the memory of the nights you spent with your family or friends watching movies. Nostalgia can set the bar for how we think something should be, how it should look, and, in the case of musicals, how it should sound. I say this because for many people, The Sound of Music is something steeped in nostalgia, and living up to the performance you went to as a child or the immortal performance of Julie Andrews on film can be nearly impossible. That is, of course, unless you are me, who, until last night, had never seen a production or watched the film in its entirety. I had no bar or childhood memory to compare Willoughby Theatre Company's production to, and I think that is to the detriment of any future productions I see because this is now my standard of how this show should be done.
Director Adam Haynes should be extraordinarily proud of his cast and crew. I could not fault a single moment, and every detail was just so impressive. I could not help but feel like I was looking at a storybook come to life. The set, lighting, and costuming gave a sense of whimsy that helped make this show so engrossing. Every transition was smooth, and the technical aspects of the show were impressive. Musical Director Callum Tolhurst-Close has brought out a beautiful sound from the cast and the band that is clear before the curtain even opens. The choral work of the nuns is stunning. In both the opening number and the wedding song, I gasped at how tight and clear they sounded. This quality is present throughout the show and deserves to be celebrated. Choreographer Janina Hamerlock's work also adds to the charm of this show. I was particularly charmed by the choreography in "Sixteen going on seventeen". Hamerlock and the performers captured a youthful playfulness and excitement that really elevated the number, in my opinion. This is a strong team that has created a brilliant show.
The show keeps asking you, How do you solve a problem like Maria? I think the answer to that is abundantly clear, cast Felicity Caldwell. She is quick, charming, and immensely watchable on stage. It is hard to be composed and excited, like in her early scenes with the Capitan. Caldwell's physicality did so much storytelling, and boy can she throw out a one-liner. Her voice is graceful and rich, every note was perfection and made me smile. Marcus James Hurley plays the serious and wonderful Captain Georg Von Trapp. Hurley is able to communicate this man's journey from cold and broken to healed and loving so well. His voice is exceptional in a way that catches you off guard, from the beautiful bass notes to some angelic highs, I was thoroughly impressed by this man.
The Von Trap family in this production is played by Abbey Thomas and Jimmy Chapman, who stay in the roles of Liesl and Friedrich, and a rotating cast of young people playing their siblings. On opening night, I enjoyed the performance of the Landler Cast with Lana Harmey (Loiusa), Gabriel Wright (Kurt), Chloe Brown (Brigitta), Lilou McKenzie (Marta), and Amy Mogan (Gretl). All of these young people did an exceptional job and showed the confidence and professionalism of people much older. Each member of this family shone on stage. I could spend paragraphs talking about each person individually, but in the interest of restraint, I will keep it to a few stray thoughts. Thomas's voice in the family ensemble numbers cut through so well, and her scene work was remarkable. Chapman had such an infectious joy in his physicality that made me smile, particularly when he is interacting with the younger Von Traps. Brown is a brilliant young actress who really shone in her scene informing Maria that she did, in fact, love the captain. Wright, Brown, and McKenzie work so well together and are so committed to everything they are doing. Mogan is a scene stealer who charms the pants off the audience.
I mentioned the awe-inspiring voices of the nuns previously, but it is worth repeating: I would pay good money to hear the entire nun chorus sing in concert. They are amazing. Voices aside, the nuns are so charming and joyful. This is particularly the case with Julia Brovedani, Julianne Horne, and Georgia Kokkoris during How do you solve a problem like Maria? The final nun is, of course, Tisha R. Kelemen as Mother Abbess. Kelemen has possibly one of the finest voices I have ever heard. Her rendition of Climb Ev'ry Mountain had me in chills. All of the nuns did a wonderful job of acting through their costumes, which forced them to really emote with their faces. Rounding out the featured roles is, of course, Taryn-Lea Bright as Baroness Elsa Schraeder and Clive Hobson as Max Detweiler. These two are so charming and delightful; they have a great playful energy that makes them really stand out as a duo. Both are incredible actors who kill it in their roles.
This is a slick and beautiful production filled to the brim with talented performers. Every single element is so well done and so captivating. I had never seen The Sound of Music before, but I will never forget the first time I ever saw it.
I give this production 5 rounds of Do-Re-Mi out of 5
This is a slick and beautiful production filled to the brim with talented performers. Every single element is so well done and so captivating.
The Sound of Music at the Concourse, Chatswood
By Michelle Sutton
Willoughby Theatre Company presents the classic family musical The Sound of Music at the Concourse, Chatswood. Directed by Adam Haynes, the production features the incredible sets and impressive ensemble that Willoughby Theatre Company has become known for. Based on the inspiring true story of the Trapp Family Singers, The Sound of Music debuted on Broadway in 1959 with music by Rodgers and Hammerstein and book by Howard Lindsey and Russel Crouse.
The set is a dazzling visual spectacular, cleverly constructed on a rotating floor to comprise five different locations including the abbey, the interior of the Von Trapp house with multiple levels and the sweeping grand staircase, the Von Trapp house exterior, Maria’s bedroom and the famous Austrian mountains, cleverly depicted on a staircase. The set is an incredibly impressive and innovative construction and also extremely beautiful to look at. It works seamlessly throughout the show and elevates the production to the next level. The lighting design complements the set and aids in creating the world of 1930s Austria. The stained-glass window projection over the convent set is a beautiful sight to behold as you first sit down and the show begins. The lighting bounces off the different sets in beautiful ways, creating the illusion of different times of day and different seasons all on the same stage. The attention to detail in the costume design helps to bring the historical era to life, with especially fun designs for the children's outfits and costumes in the ballroom scene.
Musical director Callum Tolhurst-Close has done a remarkable job bringing the much-loved songs to life. The ballroom scene featuring traditional Austrian waltz is a beautiful moment with credit to the ensemble and choreographer Janina Hamerlok and assistant choreographer Skye Cornwell. Die-hard fans of The Sound of Music will be pleased with the renditions of the iconic songs.
The charming and spirited Maria Reiner is played by Felicity Caldwell, who has the perfect vocal tone and skills, playful energetic stage presence and comedy chops for the role. She is a joy to watch throughout the whole show. Marcus Hurley commands the stage as Captain Georg Von Trapp, bringing the appropriate gravitas and charisma to the role. The actors’ chemistry is highlighted in duet “Something Good” with Caldwell’s lower register shining. Tisha R. Kelemen stuns as Mother Abess with her immaculate soprano voice and all of her solos are a highlight.
The Von Trapp children are played by a group of extremely talented actors, dancers and singers who have great chemistry with each other and brilliant comedic timing. Chloe Brown shines as Brigitta, with a voice like crystal and a delightful embodiment of the precocious, unrelentingly truthful Von Trapp daughter. Liesl Von Trapp is played by Abbey Thomas who is a true triple-threat and definitely a star in the making with impeccable vocals and a captivating stage presence. Highlights of the production include the big musical numbers that feature the children including “Do-Re-Mi” and “So Long, Farewell”.
Director Adam Haynes has done a great job bringing a beloved classic musical to life, with strong performances from all of the cast, musicians and an absolute treat of lavish set and costume design. Willoughby Theatre Company’s production of The Sound of Music is an uplifting celebration for audiences of all ages.
Willoughby Theatre Company’s production of The Sound of Music is an uplifting celebration for audiences of all ages.
Sydney Arts Guide
A BIG UNBRIDLED PRODUCTION BY WILLOUGHBY THEATRE CO
By David Kary
Similarly to Mary Poppins, and one year apart, the main character in THE SOUND OF MUSIC was a good natured nanny, in this case Maria, who took over the duties of looking after ‘difficult’ children in a dysfunctional house run by an dictatorial father, Captain von Trapp.
The classic musical is set in Austria in 1938 around the time of the takeover of the country by the Nazi regime. This is an important element in the musical as friends of the Captain exert more and more pressure on him to give his support to the regime but he remains defiant and in the end flees the country with his family.
Music is ‘the glue’ that binds everything in this musical. It is with her guitar that Maria first charms and wins over the von Trapp children. The Captain is angry with the more relaxed attitude that his children have since Maria took over and asks Maria to leave but changes his mind when he sees that Maria has taught his children to sing. At the climax. the von Trapp family make their escape, with Nazi officials in the audience, after performing in a music competition.
This current Willoughby Theatre Company revival, directed by Adam Haynes, fully and vividly captures the Sound of Music experience without you needing to pay top dollar for a hyped up, mainstream, commercial production.
The principal cast each give good performances.
Felicity Caldwell is great as the big hearted, mercurial Maria Rainer. Marcus James Hurley hits the right note as the tense and regimented retired naval captain Georg von Trapp.
Taryn-Lea Bright is just right as the sophisticated, dignified and very conservative Baroness Elsa Schraeder who thinks that she has snared the Captain in marriage, only to lose out when Maria returns to the family after going awol.
Clive Hobson gives an assured performance as the Captain’s close charming and high spirited friend, Max Detweller.
The supporting cast is, of-course, a cast of many. An impressive group of nuns were headed by Tisha B. Keleman who was great as Mother Abbess who showed off a big, strong voice that is used to great effect in the rousing ballad ‘Climb Every Mountain’. The nuns under Mother Abbess were each well played; Sister Bertha, played by Julia Brovedani, Sister Margeretta played by Julianne Horne, and Sister Sophia played by Georgia Kokkoris.
The kids playing the von Trapp children were cute and fantastic led by Abbey Thomas as sixteen year old Liesel who was enjoying her first tryst with the very pleasant telegram delivery boy, Rolf Gruber, well played by Matthew de Meyrick.
The rest of the cast played their part in making this Sound of Music is a special one.
My favourite scene from the show was the ‘So Long, Farewell’ song, and its reprise, which were just beautifully played.
Haynes’ creative team vividly created the world for the actors. Chief amongst them was Musical Director Callum Tolhurst-Close, who conducted a great, fifteen piece orchestra, Bob Dickason’s revolve set design was very effective, ExitLeft’s costumes were great, Janina Hamerlok’s choreography was faultless and Thomas French’s lighting was very effective.
A high note to end on. there is more than a bit of snobbery amongst some Sydney theatregoers. They will see productions by the main theatre companies and in the principal venues around Sydney.
It is their loss. This was, in every way, a big, full hearted, impressive production. The Willoughby Theatre Company’s production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC is playing the Concourse Theatre until Sunday 28 May 2023.
Haynes’ creative team vividly created the world for the actors.