NETG Review for SOM

North Essex Theatre Guild Showcase 2019
The Sound of Music
Braintree Musical Society
May 16th to May 18th 2019
Directed by Eric Smart

Front of House
A very efficient and friendly team. The programme was well printed and informative, with cast photos and rehearsal pictures. The Arts Theatre venue has a café so there was a good selection of drinks and refreshments on offer.

Set
A painted backcloth of mountains and a lake. Various items of grand furniture were used for rooms in the von Trapp home. The very ornate settee and chair, the opulent flower arrangements, all signified wealth. The office of the Mother Abbess was set on the floor in front of the stage.

Costumes
The costumes were a mixed bag. The nuns obviously looked good and it was a nice touch to have some younger women, not in the full habit, but dressed as postulants. Elsa’s outfits really suited her character, tight red skirt and ruffled blouse, very flattering peach dress and a gorgeous deep blue evening gown. All of Maria’s outfits were based on the outfits from the film. The children wore a variety of outfits, the iconic sailor suits, the “curtain” clothes, party dresses and the peasant style clothes for the choral festival. However, some of them didn’t fit well. Gretl seemed swamped by her skirts and Liesl’s clothes seemed too short for her. When hiring costumes, it isn’t always possible to get an exact fit but perhaps subtle temporary alterations could have been made. The pink party dresses didn’t particularly suit any of the girls. The ball gowns were an interesting mixtures of styles and eras. The housekeeper’s wig was not realistic enough. Rolf’s suit seemed rather on the large side. Maria’s wedding dress, with its long train, looked beautiful. Overall, the production looked good.

Lighting/Sound
Most of the time the stage was well lit, but the use of spotlights were sometimes not cued quickly enough. The scene where the nuns are singing “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” was not well lit. The convent bells sounded good and the thunderstorm was most impressive. However, because the bedroom was brightly lit, there was an odd contrast with the darkening sky, the rumbling thunder and the dramatic flashes of lightning. Perhaps if the bedroom had been lit more subtly, with spotlights on the bed, the night time storm would have had even more impact. It was only dark when there was thunder, then went back to full lighting again. The microphones worked well most of the time, but there were several instances when they were not switched on quickly enough so that dialogue was lost, and in one case, not switched off when someone left the stage.

Music
A great band with a very good musical director, Jessie Tabor. The volume was just right and at no time were the singers overpowered – a good balance. I mean this as a compliment – during the songs, one is focused on the action and the singers and if the music is right, one almost takes it for granted. During scene changes, when the band continued playing – that is when everyone realised how good they were!

Performances

Maria. Constance Lawton
Constance was a sweet and expressive Maria, with a lovely, seemingly effortless singing voice. She had a good rapport with the children and her growing feelings for the Captain were conveyed subtly. Her anguished scenes with the Mother Abbess were very touching. Maria has to mature from an innocent, slightly boisterous young woman to a strong, supportive wife and stepmother. Constance let us see the growth in the character. Well done.

Captain von Trapp. Niels Bradley
Niels had a military air, as befitted an ex naval man. You could sense the repressed nature of the Captain, through excellent body language and manner of speaking. A strong characterisation and a good singing voice. He handled the emotional aspects of his role with realism, particularly when he first sang with his children. We saw another side to his character when faced with the order to join the German Navy. He was sharp and abrupt. It was a real, and most unusual pleasure, to see someone actually playing a guitar.

Liesl. Gabriela Spindler-Mosquera
A vulnerable and naïve performance from Gabriella, who tried hard to convey the young woman she feels herself to be. She had a sweet singing voice and played the role of the eldest child well, looking after her younger siblings.

Friedrich and Kurt. Tyler Drury and Ben Nelson
Surrounded by girls, the boys made their mark, each creating a good and different character. Friedrich – more confident and Kurt, gentler, less sure of himself. They sang enthusiastically.

Louisa, Brigitta, Marta, Gretl. Abbie Macintosh, Emily Tabor, Alice Tyler, Avalon Lawton
Great teamwork from the girls, all developing their individual characters. There was a sense that they were real sisters, at ease with one another. Emily had a lot of lines, delivered clearly and expressively – a charming performance, and of course, in the role of Gretl, five year old Avalon was small and cute, exactly what the role needs. Well done to all of the girls for their confident playing and their singing.

Sister Margaretta, Sister Bertha and Sister Sophia. Emma Loring, Sue Pavelin and Hattie Newlyn
A wonderful trio of nuns, each with a well-defined character. They were humorous, they were vehement in their opinions, and when singing, their harmonies were delightful.

Mother Abbess. Janet Moore
Janet gave an understated performance as Mother Abbess, giving a sense of calmness and caring. She had a gentle manner and yet, her authority was apparent. One of the outstanding highlights of the show was “Climb every Mountain.” Janet’s voice was outstanding, gloriously soaring, climbing vocal mountains as the song reached its crescendo. I really sensed the character’s serenity, her confidence in God, her belief shining through. Wonderful.

Frau Schmidt. Michelle Knight
As the housekeeper, Michelle had clear diction. Perhaps a little more expression would have given the character more light and shade.

Franz. Mike Watson
A strong interpretation as the butler. Imposing and impassive.

Elsa. Helen Quigley
A very attractive woman, aware of her worth, yet able to be believably seductive. Helen had all the facets of this interesting character, giving us a glimpse of the cold, hard business woman. She had natural elegance in her portrayal, and as always with the character of Elsa, I’m never sure whether she is likeable or not. Thank you, Helen, for still leaving me wondering!

Max. Richard Cooper
Max is a complex character – cynical and amiable, calculating and humorous. Richard seemed at ease with showing those traits, and he had a good rapport with Elsa. Max has a certain charm, that lets him get away with quite a lot and Richard made this very believable – lovable yet exasperating!

Rolf. Haydn Watts
I felt that Haydn played his role with more humour than I’ve seen before but this seemed to work with his scenes with Liesl. They were more comedic than romantic! He handled his emotional conflict well and his boyish demeanour disappeared as he sided with the Nazi party. A difficult role, well played.

Herr Zeller. Roy Morkham
A small role, but played with the necessary thuggish and threatening demeanour.

Admiral. Robbie Robertson
A good military air and a good attempt at the accent.

Chorus
The chorus members all played several small roles, adding to the finished production. The singing of the nuns was delightful, the harmonies were lovely.

Conclusion
We both really enjoyed the production. The center steps and the foyer door gave extra entrances and exits, and particularly in the wedding scene, it really emphasized Maria’s lovely dress and train as she went up the steps. Microphones are necessary for a show of this size, but they were problematic at times. The choreography was sometimes a little predictable, and in the song, “Sixteen, going on Seventeen,” neither character seemed at ease with what they were asked to do. Perhaps if a group doesn’t have trained dancers, its best to keep dance numbers shorter and simpler. Sometimes the children’s mics were too loud, especially in Do-Re-Mi, but they sang with gusto and enthusiasm at all times. Even if the notes weren’t always quite right, they sang their hearts out and their enjoyment communicated itself to the audience. They made us smile! As most of them were playing their first roles on stage, I’m sure they will have learnt a lot. (It’s best not to blurt out “I’ve forgotten my line!”) All of us in amateur dramatics know that we cast from the people we have in our respective societies. Perhaps Gabriela as Liesl was a little younger than was ideal, but she coped well. There were some beautiful tableaux. The children gathered around Maria, and the wedding scene, with the nuns, the children and Maria and the Captain. A visual delight. For the concert hall scene, it was chilling when the Nazi flags dropped down and the soldiers took up their places. This was an enjoyable show, with great singing, excellent musicians and good characterisations. We, and the rest of the appreciative audience, had a lovely evening out.

We wish the Society every success in their future productions.

Jane Rayner and Anne Sexton

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