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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the London Palladium

By Matt Wolf

  Summer Strallen and Simon Burke/Tristram Kenton

How do you solve a problem caused by the departure of your original Maria? If you're the hit West End revival of The Sound of Music, you do what you did before - resort to the pulling power of TV. That explains the surprise presence of West End regular - and 2008 Olivier nominee for The Drowsy Chaperone - Summer Strallen first on the long-running UK soap, Hollyoaks, playing a musical theater wannabe called Summer Shaw and now as that eternally tuneful young nun, Maria, on stage at the London Palladium. There's only one problem:Strallen may be far bettered versed in the ways of the West End than her relatively untested predecessor but, sad to say, she's just not a star.

What makes someone shine in front of an auditorium holding in excess of 2000? Hard to say, and it's not always a skill you can learn at drama school. But from the moment she first emerged atop the sloping geometric surfaces of Robert Jones's set,Connie Fisher in Nov. 2006 silenced in a single stroke all the reality-tv naysayers. In a way that has not been equalled since, the way Fisher arrived in co-producer Andrew Lloyd Webber's production absolutely fed a performance full of gaucheries and palpable apprehension as well as an indefinably winning sunniness that spilled over into a genuine sexual frisson between her and Alexander Hanson's movingly underplayed naval captain, von Trapp - he of the unmelodious household and its seven children. Throw in Lesley Garrett whooping it up in campy vocal form as the Mother Abbess and you had probably the best-reviewed Sound of Music there has ever been, against which this take-over cast nearly 16 months later marks a return to this show's mechanical norm.

Sure, Strallen sings sweetly enough, once she gets over a visibly underpowered opening 15 minutes or so during which her breath control sometimes seemed as wayward as that perpetually busy set. But she's not an engaging enough presence to drive a musical in which Fisher's newness about the very industry into which she had been catapulted tallied nicely with the demands of a show in which Maria must play the essentially simple but also shrewd outsider to the von Trapp household. Not so this time around, with a cast in which Strallen and Simon Burke's resolutely charmless von Trapp strike no discernible sparks and at least one of the most intriguing musical numbers here falls to the peripheral characters: No Way To Stop It, for instance, Rodgers and Hammerstein's fascinating anatomy of political complacency, which marks von Trapp's last go-round with the Baroness and Max before giving himself over not just to Maria's sound of music but to her common sense. (Fiona Sinnott is amiably amoral as a Baroness who seems more interested in the fineries in life than in the swastikas that near the production's end come to encase the capacious auditorium.)

Mostly, though, a once commendably eccentric, even moving production now works more or less by rote, with the little pip-squeak chosen on press night to play that most wee of von Trapp kids, Gretl, mugging as expected to the audience to cue gurgles of approval throughout the house. (Three children alternate in all roles except that of the teenage Liesl, who is capably sung by Amy Lennox.) In context, it seems a bit rich for this Captain to complain about Max having no character when Burke himself saves what minimal passion his performance possesses for a sensitively judged Edelweiss, by which point Strallen, too, is soaring musically as demanded by Something Good. But climbing the mountain that is Richard Rodgers' score doesn't mean much in isolatio


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