New Zealand is a long way to go to see a production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC. But there were reasons for me to travel that far. Aside from it being one more step to world R&H domination, this is a production that has been carefully circumnavigating the globe. In the ever-important balance between art and commerce, this is a production with good artistic lineage that is attempting to create itself to be sufficiently efficient that it can go to places that are still learning about major productions of musicals – like China.
Auckland is a fascinating city. It is large enough to boast one spectacular 2,600 seat theater, the Civic, that I was told can be seen in the most recent movie of King Kong. One of those old movie palaces that had a new stage house attached in order to receive bona fide shows, the Civic is ornate, decorated within an inch of its life, with stars and clouds swirling around the ceiling – projections, alas, since they stop when the house lights dim. But the tradition of the large travelling musical productions isn’t quite there as it is in so many other places in the world. Four weeks is about all you can get out of an Auckland run, and in the case of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, it was augmented by three weeks in Wellington prior. The economics are tight, so the pressure is on the producers and the presenters to keep everything lean, mean – and yet grand. Not an easy task. But this production succeeded, both with the critics and the audience. Credit and thanks to David Ian and Max Finbow who have been with this production from the very beginning, and James Cundall whose career is about finding Pacific places ready to receive big productions.
The production began life in London where it filled the Palladium for two years. Cleverly redesigned for the exigencies of touring, it does what it should: give audiences the proper feel of the production, while in actuality, much of what was at the Palladium isn’t here. After all, the Palladium has one of the largest stages in the West End, and filling it was one task; adapting Robert Jones’ design for the easy in/easy out of touring is another thing altogether. One very smart move was to re-engage the Palladium’s Mother Abbess, opera star Lesley Garrett, who gave as clear, warm-hearted and big voiced a performance as she had several years ago in London. The rest of the cast – the von Trapp kids from Auckland, of course! – was mostly from South Africa, where this international production began its life.
People often ask if I go and see every professional production of a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical. Luckily, that would be impossible. And what makes it fun is that usually there are months, if not years, between the productions that I see. The last SOUND OF MUSIC I saw was last March in Chicago at the Lyric Opera, and I am not sure where the next one will be. But when it comes, I’ll be just as happy to travel to wherever it is playing as I was to make the trek to Auckland.