BRINGING THE HILLS TO LIFE: THE SOUND OF MUSIC PRESS CALL
inSing gets a preview of the legendary musical as it returns to Singapore
By Jedd Jong
The Sound of Music is among the most enduring and iconic stage musicals ever created, and it has returned to Singapore. inSing was at the Marina Bay Sands Theatre to attend the press call for The Sound of Music, where the show last played in 2014.
The Sound of Music is a fictionalisation of The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, the real-life Maria Von Trapp’s autobiography. The story revolves around Maria Rainier, a free-spirited former nun who is hired as the governess to an unyielding Naval captain’s seven children. The children, whom she teaches to sing, eventually warm to Maria, and the family becomes known as a singing group. However, their idyllic existence is threatened by the onset of World War II, and the family must plot their escape from the Nazis, who have ordered the Von Trapps to perform for them.
The team of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II created such memorable songs as “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”, “My Favourite Things”, “Edelweiss” and “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”, many of which have become standards within the showtune genre. The show debuted in 1959 and was adapted into an Oscar-winning film in 1965. The film, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer and directed by Robert Wise, recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.
This iteration of the show was first staged in 2006 at the London Palladium, produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber. An agreement between Lloyd Webber’s The Really Useful Group and the Rodgers and Hammerstein estates means that this is the only production that is currently granted permission to use the songs that appear in the film version.
Associate director Frank Thompson has been with the show since 2006, and was the Resident Director of The Sound of Music when it was performed at the London Palladium and for its subsequent UK tour. Thompson remarked that while most touring productions of musicals are pared down from the original staging, The Sound of Music seems to have gotten bigger – seven-eight shipping crates are required to transport the show’s equipment, sets, backdrops, props and costumes from country to country.
“You can’t get anything better than live dialogue and live music and the experience through that tangible medium,” Thompson said, when asked why audiences should come to see the show live. “Sometimes we are so attached to technology that we don’t feel it as much.”
The lead role of Maria is played by South African performer Carmen Pretorius, who previously portrayed the oldest Von Trapp daughter Liesl when the show last came to Singapore. “Artistically, it’s a very big step up,” Pretorius said of her ‘promotion’. “It’s a challenge, it’s exciting and it keeps me on my toes. Liesl was a little bit less challenging. It’s been a very exciting journey and I’ve gotten to know the show very well from two different angles.”
Pretorius described the process of breathing life into the show performance after performance – the show runs eight times a week. “The key for any good actor is to be in the moment. Although a lot of things are set, we do have to play off each other, and that’s what keeps the magic alive.” Pretorius added that it is key to remember that each audience is comprised of completely different people, and many might be seeing Maria melt the Captain’s heart for the first time.
“It’s very easy to melt when you look at Carmen, you just do that,” said Nicholas Maude, who plays Captain Von Trapp.
“It’s very easy to melt when you look at Nick,” Pretorius replied, the actors demonstrating their chemistry.
Being in a touring production of a musical is tough on the body. Pretorius’ secret weapon: ginger. In addition to drinking ginger tea, Pretorius “bites ginger like an apple”. She also swears by Pei Pa Koa, the traditional Chinese throat remedy.
On the children in the cast, Maude remarked ““They’re so professional and it’s inspiring,” adding that he would not have been as confident and professional at that age. “When I was younger, I was gawky and insecure. They’re so good, they’re so talented, and they really give on stage.”
Pretorius agreed, saying that working with the young cast members reminds her of when she was starting out as a theatre performer. “You forget being that little kid going to your first audition and having big dreams about being on stage. You can see that happening on their faces and it reminds you of your own journey; we all relate to that.”
“They’re going to teach me about Snapchat,” Maude quipped.
The role of Liesl is played throughout the tour by Zoe Beavon, but the younger Von Trapp children are cast with local child actors from each city that the tour visits. A total of 18 children share the six roles, and we met some of them at the press call.
Being a part of the production is an educational experience for these budding theatre actors, many of whom are already accomplished despite their age. “We get to learn all the theatre rules and get to meet all these incredible people and professionals,” said Jane Callista, who plays Marta. Callista was a finalist on The Voices Kids Indonesia in 2016.
Chloe Choo, who plays Brigitta, is no stranger to the stage. She recently played Small Allison in Pangdemonium’s staging of the musical Fun Home. The 11-year-old Choo is no stranger to The Sound of Music either, having played the role of Gretl in 2014. Thompson joked that when the show returns in 2080, Choo will play Maria.
13-year-old Mateo Fuentes, who plays Friedrich, said that the cast has become “like [his] family”. Being in the show has given him the opportunity “to learn with people who come from all around the world.”
The Sound of Music was the first musical that Emily Riddle, who plays the littlest Von Trapp child, watch. When asked if she is living her dream, she replied empathically “I am!”
“I think the show is very beautiful and I think it touches many people’s hearts,” Sophea Pennington, who plays Louisa, remarked. Pennington’s family moved from Australia to Singapore four years ago, and she has played several leading roles, including Annie in the Stamford American International School production of the musical. “It really does bring people together,” she said of the show.
Alfie Hodgson, who plays Kurt, said he enjoys the experience of “having a professional job and meeting all the cast”. Hodgson has acted on the MBS Theatre stage before, in 2016’s A Right Rubbish Christmas.
Janelle Visagie reprises the role of the Mother Abbess, which she also played in 2014. Like Pretorius, she is from South Africa, and has performed in multiple productions for the Cape Town Opera, including Madam Butterfly, Don Giovanni and Rigoletto. Viasagie laughed heartily when this writer suggested that the Mother Abbess is like Maria’s Yoda. “Carmen and I are really good friends in real life, and I am a little bit older than her, so it makes it a bit easier to go into that role of being a caregiver type,” she said of playing the role of mentor and spiritual guide.
What Viasagie admires most about Singapore might be surprising – it’s the way we manage our water resources. “The way Singapore uses their water, reuse and recycle, it’s not a tourist thing, but for me it’s one of the most amazing things about Singapore, how effective they are. Everything is so efficient and clean,” she said.
The Sound of Music is an Andrew Lloyd Webber, David Ian and The Really Useful Group production, presented by Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, BASE Entertainment Asia, Sliding Doors Entertainment and David Atkins Enterprises. The show runs from 7 November to 2 December 2017 at the MasterCard Theatres in Marina Bay Sands, Sinapore. Ticket prices start from $65 (excluding the $4 booking fee per ticket). Visit www.MarinaBaySands.com/ticketing or www.sistic.com.sg to purchase tickets.