There's something deeply moving when the Von Trapp family take flight from the Nazis at the end of at Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's evergreen musical, featuring a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. It’s not just the power of every song that's gone before, but the sheer seriousness of their plight that makes one wonder what it must have been like when audiences first witnessed it in 1959, just twenty years after the end of World War Two.
The liberating force behind the show's sentiment, of course, is free-spirited singing nun Maria Rainer, played in Martin Connor's new touring production for Bill Kenwright by Lucy O'Byrne. Once Maria leaves the convent and becomes governess to not so merry widower Captain von Trapp's brood, emancipation from their regimented lives comes through progressive schooling, creative play and the power of song. Maria even cuts up her bedroom curtains into frocks and inadvertently invents indie chic. All of which is charm itself, as even Gray O'Brien's Captain von Trapp loosens up enough to ditch Isla Carter's predatory Elsa and pick up a guitar.
If there's a slight reticence at moments early on, it's swiftly offset by O'Byrne's infectious brio, particularly in terms of her interplay with the nuns, led by Jan Hartley's Mother Abbess, and with one of three wonderfully well-drilled juvenile Von Trapp ensembles led by Annie Horn as Liesl. As Maria and the Von Trapps cross a bridge beyond a picture postcard image of the Alps during the show's final image, the orchestra swells as they find freedom, but it is Liesl and the children's premature loss of innocence you feel most.
The Herald, January 7th 2015