Sound of Music review from Val Pennett (Wharfedale Observer)

The Sound of Music, Leeds Grand Theatre, Leeds
Val Pennett, Wharfedale Observer
19 March 2013

Leeds AOS have a winner here with their production of Sound of Music. Before the show even started between 70 and 80% of the seats had already been sold. The stage show and film have always had phenomenal appeal to the general public, and I am sure that for generations to come this will continue.

An interesting history of the show in the programme tells us that the musical first came to London in May 1961, and the film version starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer opened in New York in March 1965. For me the musical show seems to have lost some of its appeal. There are so many scene changes making continuity difficult, and who can forget in the film the effect of the Von Trapps walking over the mountains into Switzerland which tends to disappoint in the musical. Sound of Music now comes across as more a play and music, but still enjoyable.

Louise Denison as Director/Choreographer and Jim Lunt as Musical Director have done incredible work for the Society. This fine orchestra together with their Musical Director add to the enjoyment of some wonderful singing, particularly with the nuns. Over 100 children auditioned for the Von Trapp family. The first night ‘Rodgers’ team which I saw were fantastic, and Louise Denison’s work with them obvious. All of them were a joy to watch, each of them very talented in their own right. Their routines with Maria were sparkling and lifted the show. Tuesday’s team was Martha Frances-Henry, Daniel Nattrass, Eleanor Hemingway, Aaron Cawood, Molly-Anne Alston, Rebecca Mayson and Charlotte Carr. As Liesl, Martha was prominent and the pleasing duet ‘Sixteen going on Seventeen’ with Rolf, played by Ben Lancaster, was beautifully danced and choreographed. Jennifer Burrows in the central role of Maria gives an impressive interpretation of the part. I first saw her as the exotic Anita in the LAOS production of West Side Story at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in which she was brilliant. The role of Maria is a complete contrast and I thought I detected first night nerves which evaporated as soon as she became involved with the children. The popular songs ‘Do-Re-Mi’ and ‘Lonely Goatherd’ were a delight with sincerity and brightness in her performance never lacking. Special mention for the children and the precision in their song ‘So Long Farewell’. The part of Captain Von Trapp is a good role for a man. Austrian and hating the Nazis, smart, handsome and eventually falling in love with Maria. Darren Roberts is certainly master of his children and the household. I wasn’t sure of his depiction of the role. Perhaps a little more humanity and humour would have helped in his portrayal. He has the lovely song ‘Edleweiss’ with Maria and the children which is always so poignant. It was great to see Anne Tonks on stage at the Grand Theatre. A stalwart in the Bradford area, she was excellent as Mother Abbess, full of feeling and still with the vocal ability she always had. Her singing of ‘Climb every Mountain’ was superb and a highlight. In whatever role he plays, Mike Porter is always convincing and meaningful in his approach to his performance as Max, helping best friend Von Trapp to escape. Rachel Aston plays the elegant Baroness Schraeder, fiancé of Von Trapp. She has a pleasing singing voice and a fine stage presence. All three impress in their two lesser known musical numbers. Christine Castle adds her expertise to the role of Frau Schmidt, and as Franz, Johnny Hirst completes the cast.

The Society’s next show will be Footloose in November at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Sarah Sturdy, Love Leeds Radio
March 19 2013

Following on from Leeds Amateur Operatic Society’s incredible autumn production of Guys and Dolls comes another sterling success, The Sound of Music. LAOS truly raise the bar of amateur productions, as is so evident in the splendid, touching and simply beautiful performance of The Sound of Music.
This classic musical is staged with heart, romance and tenderness, capturing the well-loved story of Maria and the Von Trapp family so wonderfully. When Maria Rainer is failing as a nun, despite her heart being in the right place, the Mother Abbess sends her to be a governess for Captain Von Trapp’s seven children. Reluctant at first, Maria soon realises that she has a great fondness for the children and perhaps for the Captain too, and her life starts to change. But when the Captain is informed he must return to naval service under Nazi occupied Germany and fight against his beloved Austria, it jeopardises not only all he believes in but the safety and happiness of the family.
The performances, as expected from LAOS, are all of a high standard, but most notably Jennifer Burrows plays the part of Maria with so much freshness and sensitivity, Darren Roberts delivers a very charismatic Captain Von Trapp, and all the Von Trapp children are an absolute delight.
This is an ideal family show which will entertain in every way and have everyone humming along to such favourite songs as Do-Ri-Me, My Favourite Things, The Lonely Goatherd and Edelweiss. LAOS have done it again and brought to life another fabulous musical packaged together with great performances, great design and a great orchestra. This production is most definitely alive with the sound of music and so much more.

Lauren - Leeds Student Radio

The Sound of Music by LAOS, Leeds Grand Theatre 19/03/2013

The Sound of Music is a cinematic institution and LAOS had a lot to live up to, but they rose to the occasion in spectacular fashion. Jennifer Burrows made a very youthful, innocent Maria with a vibrancy to her character and a strength to her voice that it was as though the small stage could not hold her and she deserved to have the Alps themselves echo her words. It came as no surprise that she had TV experience (in Andrew Lloyd Webber's search for a West End Maria). Not only does she bear a striking resemblance physically to the winner of that show but she more than matches her in talent and could, I believe, do justice to this role professionally.

Anne Tonks made an empathetic Mother Abbess but also revealed a spark of fun, too, that made you genuinely believe that she had not long ago been much like Maria. In Climb Every Mountain, she too revealed an operatic vocal capacity that would put her professional predecessor, Lesley Garrett, to shame.

It is not just singing that LAOS members excel at, and this was illustrated in the number, Sixteen going on Seventeen, where the dancing was almost balletic. Ben Lancaster has an impish, almost Peter-Pan-like look about him, and Martha-Frances Henry showed a child-like, wholehearted absorption in him that had me biting my lip with the foreknowledge of his betrayal.

Rachel Aston was, for me, the standout lead alongside Jennifer Burrows. She put Elsa Schraeder on my radar, as hers was a character I had not noticed or cared for much before this production. Her barbed wit and tongue as sharp as her bob put me in mind of Sharon Osbourne if she could sing (which Rachel certainly can!)

The Von-Trapp children were endearing and displayed a polished professionalism that will see them go far.

Note also must be made of the musicians in this production, the violins in particular were captivating and gave me a deeper appreciation of this timeless score that can only be achieved through a live orchestra.

Productions at the Grand always use the comparatively small space well, and The Sound of Music continued this, with the Third Reich flag taking over the stage in the contest scenes and visually representing Germany's absorption of Austria. LAOS were determined to make use of the whole auditorium and having an SS guard standing directly by your seat as you watched the contest definitely made the audience feel the same tension and anticipation as the Von-Trapps. Credit here must go to Frank Appleyard as Herr Zeller who cultivated an impressive German accent for a truly intimidating demeanour, and the fact that the leads had English accents enhanced his alienating reign of terror, so that even though his part was small his impact was powerful and genuinely disturbing.

In closing, I must conclude, as ever, that the only thing that separates LAOS company members from their peers in the public eye is the level of exposure they receive as there is certainly no difference in talent. I thank them for putting on yet another compelling production and look forward to what they do next.

The Sound of Music reviews

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