LET’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start (sorry couldn’t resist!).
If singing nuns, all singing all dancing families and a blossoming romance are amongst your ‘favourite things’ you are sure to have gone along to the Volunteer Hall last week to see Duns Operatic Society stage arguably their most ambitious story to date, ‘The Sound of Music’.
The Julie Andrews film of the same name has captured the hearts of audiences of all ages and its famous repertoire reached a new generation of followers in 2008 thanks to ‘Over The Rainbow’, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s search for a Dorothy for a new West End revival.
So the gauntlet was well and truly thrown down to director Eleanor Crawford, musical director Mike Hardy and their cast of all ages, to do justice to what has become a worldwide institution.
Anyone who has seen the film or the show will know that the nuns of the Noonberg Abbey have some particularly high notes to hit but credit to the ladies of Duns Opera and their musical director as the haunting Preludium provided a haunting and powerful start to proceedings with some fantastic harmonies.
This provided a great platform for leading lady Jane Smith to make a fine first impression with the show’s title track. For me, and others I’m sure, the song will always conjure up images of Julie Andrews on top of the mountain but even though Jane was just on a stage in the Volunteer Hall the number didn’t lose any oomph.
The thing that impressed me most about Jane throughout the production was the fact that she wasn’t afraid to play Maria her own way. There wasn’t a blonde wig or prim and proper accent to behold; instead she stayed her natural brunette shade and laced all of her musical numbers with a Borders twang and you know what? It worked.
Maria might have been proving something of a quandry to the nuns of the abbey but the song of the same name, with some difficult notes, wasn’t a problem for Sisters Berthe, Sophia, Margaretta and Mother Abbess, better known to their nearest and dearest as Lynn Gray, Rosie Daley, Shirley Redpath and Cath Nicol.
If ever there was a ‘Sister Act 3’, this foursome and the rest of their nun comrades would certainly get a look in, with Cath particularly sure to be a great credit to Whoopi Goldberg’s Sister Mary Clarance.
If anyone who took in ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’ on opening night last Wednesday didn’t get goosebumps they must have been wearing thermals! Cath’s higher range stood up to the task posed by the musical score with gusto.
A mutual decision to give Maria some time away from God led her to the home of the Von Trapps, but never one to shy away from a challenge the young nun was in optimistic mood, ‘I Have Confidence In Me’ giving Jane the chance to ensure the audience had confidence in her as a leading lady.
They say a golden rule of showbiz is never to work with children or animals but the talented children who have taken part in local productions recently have proved this notion wrong.
Hot on the heels of the young casts of ‘Oliver’, ‘Annie’ and ‘The Wizard of Oz’, Duns Opera’s Von Trapp kids aka Hannah Hay, Joshua Bayles, Amy Clark, Chris Maud, Rebekah Herbert, Scarlett Hardy and Jessica Taylor lit up the stage.
Like the whole cast, their age range was varied but the camaradarie between them was both believable and highly entertaining. Whilst as eldest child Liesl, Hannah had to show more maturity, both in her acting and singing, than her on stage siblings, as Gretl, Jessica definitely had the cute factor.
‘Sixteen Going on Seventeen’, Hannah’s duet with Matthew Taylor, in the role of Leisl’s love interest Rolf, was one of the show’s most engaging numbers and any embarassment either youngster had was kept well hidden.
Duns’ Von Trapps star shone brightest in the songs they shared with Jane, with ‘Do-Re-Mi’ and ‘The Lonely Goatherd’ two of ‘The Sound of Music’s’ stand out moments, not forgetting the children’s calling card ‘So Long, Farewell’.
The test of any strong leading lady is her ability to have chemistry with any character she shares the stage and switch from light hearted to serious quicker than you can say ‘fliperty jibert’.
Jane’s scenes with the Operatic Society’s very own Captain Von Trapp, Ronald Drummond, allowed her to repay her director’s faith in her. From dancing around the nursery with the children to trying desparately to fight her feelings for their father, Jane’s Maria was a character you couldn’t help but warm to.
Moving on to her onstage other half, you would never have guessed Ronald had never performed in a musical since 1986. He has fine tuned the vocals of many a cast member as conductor and musical director since then but his vocals in the likes of ‘Something Good’ (a terrific duet with Jane), ‘Edelweiss’ and ‘No Way To Stop It’ suggested a regular place in the spotlight would be very much local audiences’ gain.
The latter was one of two songs which saw Ronald colloborate with Alex Watson and Barry Jones who proved they were the perfect choice for the roles of Elsa and Max. The pair shared many a scene together with Max playing the loveable joker card while Alex’s Elsa went from being a marvellously refined and composed glamour-puss to a shadow of herself when she realised she’d lost the Captain’s heart to Maria.
Although ‘The Sound of Music’ is known for its bright eyed and bushy tailed song and dance numbers it is set against the altogether less cheery backdrop of the onset of World War Two and as Nazis Herr Zeller and Admiral von Schreiber Alex Wilson and Colin Tait were a frightening force to be reckoned with.
In contrast DC and Christine Slater were a much more welcoming duo as the Captain’s faithful servants Franz and Frau Schmidt.
The Operatic Society’s decision to set the action on a sprawling stage across the side of the Volunteer Hall paid dividends as it proved mightily effective. Some of the scene stages might not have been as slick as those involved hoped but hats must go off to the stage hands who were kept on their feet throughout the show.
If you’re going to do ‘The Sound of Music’ you’ve got to give it your all and with some great acting from a cast that spanned the generations, top notch singing and a superb orchestra and a committed production team I couldn’t accuse Duns Opera of giving it anything less. Never mind ‘Sixteen Going on Seventeen’ this was brilliant going on superb.
Definitely the best DDAOS production I’ve seen to date.