The Sound Of Music:
Here's a sound musical.  By: ANDREW CLARK.  27th March 2000

More than 40 years after its first Broadway smash, a new Melbourne production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music is a triumph.

Lisa McCune, well known to commercial television soap watchers, is a revelation as Maria. Her presence, voice, supple movements, facial mobility, energy and charm, and her evolution into a more sensual woman - aware and somewhat confused by her power - persuade us that she can enlarge the life of Captain Georg Von Trapp.

A former Austrian naval hero, and a widower turned rich martinet, played by John Waters, Von Trapp is captured by Maria's music, her intoxication with their alpine locale, her gift for inspiring his seven children, and - though it at first dismays him - her independence. And despite its occasional cloying quality, there is also a theme - beyond that of redemptive love - of refusal to countenance evil.

This refusal gives substance to the original musical. On a moral scale, there are three levels - Maria and Captain Von Trapp, who reject evil; and Else Schraeder (Anne Wood), the voluptuous and sophisticated socialite, and Max Detweiler (Bert Newton), who both make a Mephistophelian bargain with the approaching Nazi Anschluss, which forcibly joins Austria to Germany; and Franz the butler (James Wright) and Herr Zeller (Paul Dawber), the Nazi turncoats. Then there is Rolf Gruber, the young postman, also a Nazi agent, but one who with a hint of ambivalence in a musical that does not feature character complexity. Rolf is a Nazi but is also smitten by Liesl, Von Trapp's oldest daughter, and he in effect saves the family from capture, leading to their escape across Maria's beloved mountains.

This is where the new production, which originated in New York in 1998, but which now features a fully Australian cast, has managed to achieve a more satisfying balance than that film. For all her charm, perfect diction and beautiful voice, Julie Andrews is somehow less persuasive as a Maria who could not only capture Von Trapp but understand the grave issues they face. This skewed the Julie Andrews version towards the fun-joy-and-love side of what is arguably the world's most loved musical, a tilt that underwrote the film's extraordinary following.

But Ms McCune is made of feistier stuff. A stronger Maria - and a stronger musical - is the result. This sense emerges in the opening scene, set in the Nonnberg Abbey, where Maria is a postulant. Waves of mist run through the dark cloisters as the Mother Abbess, played with charm and authority by Eilene Hannan, joins Sister Margaretta (Susan-Ann Walker), Sister Berthe (Angela Johnson) and Sister Sophia (Carolyn Ferrie) in singing a beautiful version of Preludium.

When we move on to that famous scene of Maria singing The Sound of Music, McCune immediately raises the energy level and stamps her authority on the audience. By the time the scene switches to Von Trapp's Hapsburg mansion, where Maria has been appointed governess after the shrewd and perceptive Mother Abbess decides she is not ready to take her full orders, the ensemble strength of this production becomes apparent. This is despite the rapid emotional jump-edit between scenes - from Maria being crestfallen at having to leave the abbey, to her excitement about her new adventure.

Like all great musical performances, this is one in which the arrangement, set design, lighting and sound all play crucial roles in setting the mood, enhancing the acting and singing, and fostering a sense of magic. Peter Casey's musical direction and Heidi Ettinger's set design, combined with Catherine Zuber's costumes and Paul Gallo's lighting, generate a colorful stage that encourages flamboyance and risk-taking. They communicate the sensuality and style that were such a feature of the Hapsburg mode, but one that is often absent from other productions.

As Von Trapp, John Waters' gravitas and shy grief, barely suppressed by his control-freak behavior with his children, are impressive. This changes into confusion, then renewed humanity, as a result of Maria's influence. The scene in which Von Trapp and his near-affianced Viennese socialite, Else Schraeder, realise they have reached an emotional fork is charged. Where Waters falters is in his voice, which lacks the texture to carry off such numbers as The Sound of Music and Edelweiss with conviction.

The Von Trapp children succeed in giving the musical its sense of freshness and joy, particularly in the bedroom scene with McCune doing a masterly performance of My Favorite Things.

This leads to another television import. As the opportunist Max Detweiler, who adjusts with little apparent difficulty to the Nazis' new order, Bert Newton brings a panto flavor to the role. Dressed like a middle-European version of Minnesota Fats in double-breasted suits, but with oddly buffed-up hair, Bert, you feel, knows all the moves, but still the audience enjoys the well-practised ride. In the the penultimate scene, in which he MCs the Von Trapp family singers before Austria's new Nazi patrons, there is even a hint of Mel Brooks.
Performing arts  By: Suzanne Brown.  28th March 2000.  The Age

The sound of mobile phones
The Sound of Music was performed in front of an enthusiastic opening night crowd on Saturday with exBlue Heelers regular Lisa McCune bringing the Princess Theatre audience to their feet.

The production was seamless with no mishaps from the poised children (the youngest one is seven years old) but the audience wasn't so well behaved with not one but two mobile phones ringing during the show.  One in the middle of an emotional scene where even the experienced John Waters looked to be struggling with his concentration.

Dermott Brereton brought his daughter, Keely, who appeared to have enjoyed the show so much she wanted to be up there singing and dancing too. As the theatre drained of people at the end of the night she trotted up the steps on to the stage before dad dragged her off - she's obviously inherited Brereton's shyness.

At the afterparty at Rosati restaurant, Waters was swooped on by a gaggle of autograph seekers (one was radio personality Ross Stevenson's wife, Jamie, seeking an autograph for a friend). Treena Joel was seen having a muchdeserved drink with Doreen Stockdale (that morning The Age's front page story disputed the authenticity of a Charles Conder painting to be auctioned by Leonard Joel). While Rodgers and Hammerstein chief executive Ted Chapin and his family, over from New York, chatted with the cast. Bert Newton's daughter received a surprise 21st birthday cake from the producers while various other arts folk, corporate types and assorted celebrities downed the freeflowing champagne.
                    The hills are alive and well. 
                         18th November 1999.  Newcastle Herald

                         Before The Sound of Music opened at Sydney's Star City Lyric Theatre a week                            ago it had sold tickets worth $4million, one of the biggest advances in                                         Australian box-office history.  Having seen the show, I can confidently predict                              the millions will multiply rapidly.

This is about as perfect a Sound of Music as you are likely to see, a lovely to look at and impeccably performed production which turns a thin and syrupy musical into enchanting entertainment.

The most enchanting element of all is Lisa McCune as the postulate Maria Rainer whose short-term job as governess to seven motherless children leads to her marriage to their naval-officer father in a late 1930s Austria under threat of invasion from neighbouring Nazi Germany.  McCune's charm and naturalness win audience hearts from her first scene, a spectacular piece of stagecraft which has the dark walls of Nonnberg Abbey replaced in a flash by a sunlit panoramic vista of the Austrian Alps as Maria makes her way down the mountain singing the title song.

While the other principals don't sidestep their characters' cliches quite so nimbly they make the people come warmly alive in the context of the show's chocolate-box-picture reality.

John Waters gives a human face to the rule-bound Captain von Trapp, Bert Newton is a jovially flippant Max, von Trapp's theatrical
agent friend, and Anne Wood makes Elsa, `the other woman', sympathetic.  The youngsters playing the von Trapp children are a delight, though I didn't get to see Newcastle's Christopher Nolan playing the eldest von Trapp son, Friedrich, at the performance I attended (there are two child casts).  However, I did see another Novocastrian, Tyran Parke, who graduated last year from WAAPA's musical theatre course. He's in the chorus, playing among other things a Nazi youth, and is understudying Tim Draxl in the role of telegram boy Rolf who's attracted to oldest von Trapp daughter Liesl.

American director Susan B. Schulman's staging of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical numbers, including favourites such as Do-Re-Mi, My Favourite Things and Edelweiss, is impeccable.
The Sound of Music plays until the beginning of March.
The hills are alive with local talent.  THE AUSTRALIAN. 15th November 1999.  By: JOHN McCALLUM

The Sound of Music
By Rodgers and Hammerstein. Director: Susan H. Schulman. Choreography: Michael Lichtefeld. Musical Director: Peter Casey. Lyric Theatre, Sydney

A delightful young trainee nun is sent from her abbey to be governess to seven children who need love and fun in their strictly drilled lives. She provides both and falls in love with their stern, repressed father. She teaches them to sing (you begin with doh-re-mi) and takes them for walks in the mountains. The growing Nazi menace threatens their alpine happiness... Stop me if you've heard this before.

In most theatrical genres other than musicals the creative team -- the directors and the designers -- are expected to have something to say in the way they interpret the original and put their stamp on it. Commercial musicals are not interpreted but revived, like cardiac patients. The New York Outer Critics Circle Awards has a category just for outstanding revival of a musical; and an earlier version of this production of The Sound of Music won it.

You can see why. This is a very attractive theatrical product. Director Susan Schulman and designer Heidi Ettinger have more or less ignored the film and gone back to the source of a story that is much loved for good reasons. It has great characters, a fine plot, plenty of emotion, a stirring theme and not too much politics, considering that it is set during the rise of fascism. It also has, of course, some of the best-known songs of the past 40 years of popular entertainment.

Schulman's direction is highly theatrical and conventionally mannered in appearance. Ettinger's set celebrates the man-made grandeur of the abbey and the natural grandeur of the Alps and finds some excitement in the contrast between them. The abbey is a vast, dark cavern of columns that transforms spectacularly into the hills that loom above Captain von Trapp's luxurious little island of a home. Sometimes these hills are light, friendly and full of edelweiss, and sometimes they are dark, frightening and full of storm clouds. Paul Gallo's lighting contributes to some very spectacular weather effects.

What is not imported in this show is the Australian company, led by John Waters and Lisa McCune. A director who was trying to do more than a reconstruction of a revival might have done more with a cast of this calibre.

Waters, as von Trapp, is reserved and dignified. He lets his fine singing do the work of revealing the current of strong emotion and conviction that runs under von Trapp's austere public mask. The result is very effective.
Eilene Hannan's abbess, June Salter's Frau Schmidt and Anne Wood's Elsa are all very strong, especially Hannan, when she is backed by her chorus of quirky but full-voiced nuns. Bert Newton, a fine television personality but not an actor, is terrible as Detweiler. He seems to have wandered in from some Christmas panto.
Pia Morley and Tim Draxl are appealing as Liesl von Trapp and her young lover Rolf, the bright fresh-faced lad with the swastika on his sleeve. The von Trapp children are disciplined and charming as they sing and dance their way through the well-known numbers.

But just as you don't take on Hamlet without a Prince of Denmark you don't take on The Sound of Music without a Maria to whom the audience's heart goes out, and in Lisa McCune they have found one. She is ebullient and lively, definitely a star. She has all the freshness and openness of Julie Andrews but much more personality. She plays here within the constraints of a commercial production that aims to recreate for fans something of the spirit of the original, and she does it superbly.