How do you solve a problem like Lloyd Webber? Just as the recent How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? TV series led one to fear, the new Sound of Music is synthetic, unspontaneous, machine-like, and very, very ingratiating. It’s lighter and shallower than the film. (A lot less serious about Nazis, too.)
And, by restoring several Rodgers-and-Hammerstein numbers omitted from the film, it actually weakens the drama – since Maria’s rival in love, Baroness Schraeder, here also gets to sing, unhelpfully showing us that these children are going to get music in their lives no matter whom papa marries.
Here is the most old-fashioned big musical staging in town, with numerous, bland storybook sets and a large number of ugly costumes (the bad couture at the Baron’s ball is startling). Everyone is pat-on-cue, clockwork, desperately eager to please, and dramatically unconvincing.
It is impossible to believe that this Maria believes in God or that she is in love with Captain von Trapp. It is impossible to believe that these children are frightened of the storm (the tiniest and cutest keeps grinning).
No performance is more ingratiating than Connie Fisher, the Maria of TV-competition-winning fame. Her singing is blandly efficient, slightly breathy, wholly unindividual in phrasing or timbre, and her acting continually reverts to her home key of Wide-Eyed Sexless Rapture.
Like most of the performers here, she often does at least one gesture per sentence. The staging has a stiffly choreographed quality that strikes me as wholly atypical of Sams as director.
Just three performances seem exceptional. Alexander Hanson, a short-notice substitute Captain von Trapp, is the most relaxed person onstage, with some suggestion of an inner life.
Leslie Garrett plays the Mother Abbess with simplicity, opening up the big top notes in “Climb Every Mountain” while keeping it fresh as communication.
The press-night Kurt, Jack Montgomery, manages to become the most three-dimensional person onstage: a young aristocrat in embryo, with charm, manners, and purpose.
Of course there are some winning episodes. The children’s harmonies have their magic, and the scene when they first break the ice by hugging their father is a lump-in-throat moment. As a whole, though, this is two and a half hours of unpersuasive saccharine.
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