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Image: James Morgan

THEATRE: 28 DECEMBER 2015

By JOHN ROZENTALS

The Sound of Music, based on the original book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse | Music by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II | Directed by Jeremy Sams | Choreography by Arlene Phillips CBE

Capitol Theatre, Haymarket, Sydney, until 28 February, then touring to Brisbane (Lyric Theatre from 11 March), Melbourne (Regent Theatre from 13 May) and Adelaide (Festival Theatre from 9 August) | Visit http://soundofmusictour.com.au for ticketing details

I’ve never regarded myself as a great fan of The Sound of Music.

Sure, I’d seen the 1965 film starring the legendary Julie Andrews, and could still vaguely remember the storyline of the Austrian Von Trapp family and their eventual successful struggle against Nazism, but the finer points of the music had undoubtedly been lost on a teenager who’d just discovered Mick, Keef and The Rolling Stones, and was on the cusp of embracing Bob Dylan.

But I must admit to considerable excitement on being invited to opening night of the new production now playing at Sydney’s marvellous old Capital Theatre and then touring Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide.

After all, the production team — Andrew Lloyd Webber and his Really Useful Theatre Group, John Frost AM and David Ian — was certainly one of the most experienced ever put together and it obviously promised much.

And they certainly over-delivered on that promise.

From the time that the young Maria Rainer (Amy Lehpamer), later to become Maria Von Trapp, sings the title song, then Maria and My Favourite Things, before leading disciplinarian Captain George Von Trapp’s (Cameron Daddo) seven children (Stefanie Jones as Liesl and, on this night, Jude Padden-Row as Friedrich, Savannah Clarke as Louise, Louis Fotaine as Kurt, Madison Russo as Brigitta, Erica Giles as Marta and Nakita Clarke as Gretl) in a splendidly animated and superbly choreographed rendition of Do-Re-Mi, I was seriously hooked.

Two-and-a-half hours or so simply flew past in a whirl of fabulous music and excellent acting amid a set that that was at once both technically complex yet deceptively simple, and always just so so effective.

And yes, songs such as My Favourite Things, Sixteen Going on Seventeen, Edelweiss and Climb Ev’ry Mountain are truly foot-tappingly memorable.

But there is a very dark, brooding side to The Sound of Music — the rise of Nazism and its magnetic lure, which attracted many even otherwise good people to a fundamentally evil philosophy.

This phase of the script is chillingly handled by director Jeremy Sams. The large Nazi flag unfurling dramatically in the middle of the audience and the appearance of a spot-lit stormtrooper, with gun at ready, in one of the dress-circle booths are scenes that will remain with me for a long time.

Amy Lehpamer, who really came to prominence as Janet in the Sydney and Melbourne encore seasons of The Rocky Horror Show, looks and sounds remarkably like the young Julie Andrews of the original film version.

Cameron Dado is probably the least convincing of the main actors, but that’s measuring him against some great performances, and he more than redeems himself with a very solid, heart-breaking rendition of Edelweiss.

There are some big names in the supporting roles, such as Marina Prior playing Baroness Schraeder and Lorraine Bayly playing Frau Schmidt, and I really liked David James’ (who I thought was great in TV’s satirical The Hollowmen) performance as the somewhat two-faced ‘Uncle’ Max Detweiler sponging on the wealthy and influential.

But the most goose-pimply moments were produced by Opera Australia star Jacqueline Dark as the Mother Abbess. Even from midway back in the Capitol stalls, when she delivered at full-belt you could feel her voice thumping against your chest.

Anyway, if you do only see one musical over the next 12 months or so in whichever Australian capital, this would be a fine one to select.

Thumbs up!

Amy Lehpamer. Image: James Morgan

Marina Prior. Image: Brian Geach

Lorraine Bayly. Image: Brian Geach

Jacqueline Dark. Image: Brian Geach

Cameron Dado delivers a stirring rendition of Edelweiss. Image: James Morgan