He was there the night after us and convinced me I wasn’t being overly picky by puzzling over Summer Strallen’s barely luke warm opening number. I guess it must be doubly challenging to have not only the timeless image of Julie Andrew’s grand cinematic rendition to cope with but also know you are following a highly publicised girl plucked from the crowd in Connie Fisher. But to try and differentiate yourself by maintaining what seemed a completely dynamic-free restraint is a pretty odd way of tackling the issue, if such there be. The Hills were not so much Alive as following doctor’s orders to avoid excitement in lieu of their ancient age.
Less surprising was the lack of obvious sparkle between understudy Tim Morgan’s Captain von Trapp and Maria; a genteel, almost standoffish, affair was always on the cards after that opening.
As an annoyingly nosey amateur lighting designer, a heads-up-in-the-rig approach to a West End show is de rigeur. So it also got a little worse for me when I realised this was going to be one of those shows that are heavily dependent on very obvious follow-spotting. It was almost comical. On came an actor: ping! On came the follow spot. Two entrances: double ping! Summer takes a stroll against a sky scene: ping ping! Two perfect shadows. Okay, we know it is a painted cloth but how about working a little harder on the illusion?
While I am in the mood for picking up detail that the non-saddo majority of the audience probably missed: I couldn’t figure why the gobo lattice shapes on the floor of the abbey scenes changed colour, quite violently, through at least one of the songs. Did the sun or moon turn blue and then pink and then violet? Not so much a Problem With Maria as with global warming by the looks of things.
I cannot quite leave my griping without mentioning the flying saucer-esque mountain that moved for effect at both ends of the show. Was that very clever, or just a bit more than distracting? It was somehow less distracting at the open but looked almost freakily like a scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind in the final scene; then it sat stranded over the heads of the cast almost like a mistake for the curtain call. I wish I had a picture but Googling around has not unearthed an image of it.
So all in all not quite what I was expecting.
More positively the children stole the show. Brilliantly. Even Summer warmed up through the evening and seemed to draw much energy in the family numbers. Some of the costume changes must come with a health warning, so fast were they. Much of the staging, space mountain aside, was impressive.
I’m still glad I saw the show prior to close on 21 February but the forthcoming tour, with Connie Fisher reclaiming the postulant’s dress, will surely need to re-inject some energy.