The Sound of Music – Wickersley Young Stars

Friday 4 November 2022 took me by train to Rotherham to see a production of The Sound of Music performed by Wickersley Young Stars. For me there is a family interest in this show since my great niece, Sally Ormesher, was directing. This was in conjunction with debut co-director and actor, Jonah Thompson.

Not sure of what to expect I took my seat in this homely theatre along with a packed audience of all ages, no doubt many of whom, like me, also had a family interest. The show began on time, the pit orchestra swung into life and suddenly we were all transported to Austria at that disturbing time in history when the Nazi political machine was in full swing.

This Rodgers and Hammerstein musical classic is both well-known and well-appreciated and thankfully there were no experiments with dress, no attempts to deviate with settings, script or music and no attempts to put on assumed accents. The only digression from this that I noticed was Captain von Trapp himself (Thomas Wood), who spoke with a refined voice that gave him the grandeur and authority that his role demanded. This polished voice was well maintained throughout, so much so, that I have no idea whether or not he speaks like that when you meet him in the street. It would not surprise me.

The female lead, Maria (Calleigh Cottrell), the role for whom the musical was originally written, was superb. She hit every note plumb centre and was a pleasure to listen to from start to finish. You need a very special talent to entertain so consistently well over a long period.

Another character requiring an exceptional voice was the Abbess (Ellie Habbin) and she too was spot on particularly with her powerful rendition of “Climb Every Mountain” – a lifting song delivered with the composure and dignity expected of a spiritual leader. Her fellow sisters, Sofia (Isabelle Colton) and Bertha (Millie McCall) and Margaretta (Courtney Dylan) were convincing in their questioning and defence of Maria and the young orphan boy they were fostering (Leo Moreman) helped bring a special warmth to the stage.

Housekeeper Frau Schmidt (Summer-Louise Potts) and butler Franz (Emma Watters) gave splendid performances as did the children: Louisa (Eliza Loveley), Brigita, (Imogen Brooksbank), Marta (Maya Sissons), Leisl (Alana Tomlinson), Gretl (Georgie White), Friederich (Rhys Jordan) and cheeky Kurt (Oliver Wood). This family would steal the hearts of any competition judge – and certainly stole mine.

In theatre there are always villains like Rolf (Chris Thorpe) who aptly conveyed the fickle transformation from suitor to an edgy conscript of the Hitler Youth movement. Then there were those seeking to benefit from the Nazi regime, through marriage, Baroness Schraeder (Grace Castle) and through promotion of the von Trapp singers, Max Detweller (Jonah Thompson again) both of whom gave strong true-to-life portrayals to expose the tensions of the day.

Mention must be made of those multi-talented individuals, Libbie Mace and Abigail Cooper, who took on the roles of more than one character, and took them on with panache. Everybody involved deserves credit for a splendid performance, of note, the ensemble: Jessica Brooksbank, Molly Allott, Mia Leighton and Leo Moreman (again) – this boy’s youthful ambition seems to be leaning towards a military career.

In this uncertain world at the very least entertainment in auditoria across the land ought to be an assured fact of life. Sadly, in theatre, as in life, nothing is certain. This production had been planned for 2020 but along came the “dreaded lurgy” fake-pandemic to disrupt it – and disrupt life in general. I understand, through MEP Christine Anderson, they are planning another big scare based on the “gigantic lie”. Without wishing to get too political I see many similarities between what is happening today and what happened under the Nazi regime – general acceptance by the populace of human experimentation, refusal to question the narrative emanating from the corporate-owned media, too many Rolfs and not enough von Trapps.

There are aspects in putting on a show which all too often get neglected. Behind every theatrical production there is a cast of unseen players, or barely-seen players, who ensure that everything runs to plan. Scenery changes were slick and effective moving swiftly from Abbey to Stately Home, from countryside to the Salzburg Music Festival. The costumes – so many, so good – were brilliant. Subtle light changes caught the mood of the scenes and only those who have worked in theatre appreciate that the lighting department also has to work to a script.

The music, yes, this was very much about the music, was superb and due accolades go to Steve Trotter and his team for making the evening the success it was. Likewise to choreographer Summer Williams and her team for getting all the arms and feet in the right places at the right time.

If I have left anyone out it is because you were so good, and performed so well, you blended in seamlessly with a seamless production of this wonderful family favourite. Well done! The standing ovation was well-earned.

I understand also that there were cameo appearances which I missed. You know who you are.

N. B. It is seventy years since I lived in the West Riding area and what a delight it was to hear what has now become the South Yorkshire accent once again. From a personal point of view I was so proud to know that the family theatrical connection was still being continued through the Ormesher line, and looks likely to continue for some time to come in the town where my grandparents and other family members once performed – Rotherham.

Featured image photo credit: Rotherham Advertiser

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