Review: The Sound of Music

Karralyka Theatre, Ringwood
Mountain District Musical Society
26 May to 4 June

By Lucas Ioppolo

Spent my evening in Ringwood on Friday night to attend the opening night of MDMS’ production of The Sound Of Music. Before Andrew Lloyd Webber, before Stephen Sondheim, there was the legendary pairing of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II who’s musical partnership spanned almost two decades and their work continues to stand the test of time to this day. It goes without saying, however, that you need to have a solid cast, crew and prod team in order to put on any Rodgers and Hammerstein musical in a respectable fashion. Many of their classic compositions can be some of the hardest to sing, many roles have been touched by multiple Academy Award winning legends that one must hold a candle to and the stories have since become immortalised. The Sound Of Music is no exception as it may be their last, but one of their biggest successes and MDMS has followed up their comeback production of Les Misérables last year in spectacular style with this classic and it could easily give any professional production of the show a run for its money. 

Helming the entire production was Renée Maloney, who showed off her skills in not only the directorial department but also as the choreographer. Receiving award nominations in both fields over the last few years, Maloney was right in her element as she managed intertwine the best of both worlds so efficiently, allowing her actors to glide across the stage lightly on their feet to add to their character while every dancer told a story in each of their routines without having to say a word. In the director’s chair, she utilised projections instead of an extravagant set to effectively paint a picture of the quiet Austrian lifestyle and community in the hills before the Second World War. Meanwhile, the choreography omitted heavily choreographed extravaganza numbers for sweet, soft displays of dance that complimented both novice and borderline professional dancers and matched the legendary music that gives the show its magic. All of these elements put together, resulted in a directorial/choreographic effort from Maloney that was both gallant and graceful. Behind the baton in this production were not one but two musical directors, Matthew Tzivakis in the vocal department and Amy Cumming in the orchestral department. Tzivakis ensured a vocal masterclass from each of the on stage performers with a perfect blend of classical and early contemporary vocal techniques from each soloist and flawless harmonies to lift each soloist up from each ensemble vocalist. As for Cumming, her musical skills showcased no bounds as she ditched the more contemporary pop and rock musical stylings she’s known for helming in our circuit and demonstrated that she is just as bold and brave with a more vintage score, proving she can do literally anything and shape it into a masterpiece. Together with their trusted band, Tzivakis and Cumming delivered an aural sensation for everyone in the audience in a musical directors turn that was harmoniously heavenly and heralded without a single note out of place or time. 

If anyone was equally just as suited for The Sound Of Music than the prod team was, it was the cast of MDMS’ production. All of whom went above and beyond to put on a spectacle for a modern day audience  that have either never been introduced to the musical theatre classic or have neglected to recognise its continued legacy. Before I dive into the lead characters, however, I wish to highlight the extraordinary work of the company’s ensemble and featured ensemble players. Regardless of whether they were instilling fear when playing a Third Reich officer or praising the lord and instilling joy when portraying a nun, everyone was truly dedicated to the source material and made their roles stand out in a show that revolves mostly around one family. Together, they gave the production its soul and it was fantastic to see such stamina and strength in all of their acting, singing and dancing abilities, which many companies at times tend to neglect in more vocally driven musicals. 

Now we come to the leading players and first, we must begin with the star of the show, Maria Rainer, who was portrayed by the great Nadia Gianinotti like you’ve never seen her before. More known in our circuit for her work in pop culture musicals like Chicago, Wicked, Sweet Charity and Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, Gianinotti rose to the occasion to deliver a performance that would make the legendary Julie Andrews (who played Maria in the 1965 film adaptation) proud. She did justice to the original source material with her heartwarming portrayal of a nun yearning to find herself in a life outside of the abbey and in doing so finds her home with Disney-esque vocal chops to match, resulting in a performance with elements of both class and cheer. What is the role of Captain George Von Trapp without a strong actor to literally and metaphorically captain the cast? MDMS found exactly that in Richard Thomas, who’s portrayal of a naval captain willing to stand by his disciplinary actions and morals but rediscovers his love for both music and his family was nothing short of mesmerising. Thomas deserves acclaim for his performance of Von Trapp’s big Swan song Edelweiss alone as he laid his heart bare for all to see with each lyric he sang but his acting should also see recognition as he embodied everything his character stood for when he was onstage and displayed both sides of Von Trapp’s conflicted emotions in a commanding and crisp performance that could bring a tear to the audience’s eye. One of the biggest standouts in the production was the motherly,  magical and mystifying performance given by Felicity Eastwood in the role of the Mother Abbess, a head nun who first appears strict to the audience but has a heart of gold with side of sweet understanding to help Maria and others in the cast find their dream. In a role she was born to play, Eastwood put her operatic chops to astonishing use, especially in her ovation worthy rendition of Climb Ev’ry Mountain, to pour all of her emotions and feelings out in such a heavenly portrayal that instilled hope into everyone present in the theatre, on stage or off. 

Other leads duly worth noting included Steven Keane and Catherine Bolzonello in the respective roles of Max Detweiler and Elsa Schraeder. Both of their portrayals kept the show lively to hook those who weren’t familiar with The Sound Of Music’s borderline classical approach and with their portrayals of friends who want to stand by the Von Trapp family and make them household names but find themselves conforming to Nazi rule near the show’s end were both pompous and proud in the best ways possible. Dot Parker and David Bean and their portrayals of the humble house servants Frau Schmidt and Franz added hilarity and honour to the production in order to balance out the heavily dramatic scenes with some witty humour and they succeeded in just a few lines during their early introduction in the script. Kelliann Brady, Renée Mohring and Melody Hiew also shined in their habits as the the three main Sisters of the Abbey, who together had faultlessly perfected each of their harmonies that can put many vocal trios to shame, as they blended so smoothly and soundly to achieve godly renditions of their lines and their lyrics. We also had Jessica Clark and Joshua Simos-Garner turn in memorable portrayals of young lovers Leisl Von Trapp and Rolf Gruber respectively. Throughout the production, the two characters grow more distant as their views of Austrian honour start to differ but the chemistry remained constant between the two performers during the musical’s run time. Whenever they were sweetly serenading each other with Sixteen Going On Seventeen or having their innocence tarnished by the changing world they live in, both Clark and Simos-Garner stayed true to each other in playful and pristine performances. 

The kings and queens of MDMS’ take were more representative of princes as princesses as they took the form of the younger Von Trapp children, Friedrich, Louisa, Kurt, Brigitta, Marta and Gretl. Portrayed by two different casts (the Do Re Mi cast and the Edelweiss cast), you had Anthony Pierson, Amelia and Isla Everett, Coby Ashman, Mila Orchard and Isabelle David Costa in the former but I was fortunate enough to witness the latter, who comprised of Heath Judd, Zoe D’Alessandro, Lucas Atkinson, Ava McKenzie, Isla Clark and Matilda Fleming. Watching the six young performers play, sing and laugh on stage while giving some youthful wisdom to both their onstage father and governess was not short of adorable and it warmed the hearts of everyone in the auditorium to know that these young stars will be taking our community by storm once they get older. No matter which of the casts you’re able to witness, you are guaranteed highly cute and cuddly performances filled with innocence and inspiration that gave The Sound Of Music its smiles, sunshine and above all, its heart. 

In conclusion, for a musical that originally debuted almost sixty-five years ago, MDMS produced a simply beautiful show that will have our community question why we do not put on this show more often. It reminded the audience why Rodgers and Hammerstein’s arguable magnum opus is still beloved by theatre lovers all around the world and the company rightfully represented all of the original broadway cast, immortalised the original film cast and every other adaptation that came before it. MDMS continues to carry on the legacy left by epic musical theatre shows through time and I can’t wait to see the next epic they deliver in the near future. Shoutout to Renée Maloney and Amy Cumming for the incredible work on the prod team, to Isla Clark, Alexia and Keliann Brady and Johnny D’Arco for the performances in the show and the rest of the cast and crew associated with The Sound Of Music on a killer opening night. If you’re yet to get your tickets to see the spectacle, get your hands on them while you still can, support the company and local theatre. Congratulations to each and everyone of you, keep the hills alive and never forget all of your favourite things.

mdms.org.au

About the Author

Lucas Ioppolo is a community theatre performer with a passion to bring a positive energy and encouragement to those in theatre who have gone unnoticed or underrepresented. He hopes his reviews can help bring the spotlight back to a community that has helped him throughout the years.

#whatsonstagemelb #melbournetheatre #melbournetheatreinfo