It takes courage to restage a classic musical, The Sound Of Music, especially when the benchmark for lead singer was set by the iconic Julie Andrews in a very different 1965 movie.
The film about a singing governess who mothers seven children and marries their father as the Nazis take over Austria clearly remains staple viewing for families today. Even the admirable sets and superb staging of Sunday's show did not entirely distract several members of the audience from the differences between stage and screen.
Viewers at Marina Bay Sands' Grand Theatre were confused, out of focus and bemused during scenes not in the film and especially when toe-tapping favourite songs were sung out of the expected order. The Lonely Goatherd appeared earlier than in the film, as did My Favourite Things, sung on stage by Maria (Bethany Dickson) and the scene-stealing Mother Abbess (Janelle Visagie). In the film, it was sung by Maria and the motherless von Trapp children.
It was hard not to have the movie in mind when lead actress Dickson sported the same short blonde cap Andrews did and appeared for the first time in almost the same dress as Andrews' first appearance in the film. Perhaps not the best idea, since Andrews' four-octave range is in a class of its own and certainly was never reproduced on Sunday.
Happily, several metaphorical high notes were hit in the second half as plot outshone the music and the von Trapp family escaped from stormtroopers staged strategically among the audience.
Among the pleasing deviations from the film is the portrayal of Austria in 1938 and the nuanced views of its citizens. Captain von Trapp's fiancee, Baroness Schraeder (a very competent Taryn Sudding) breaks up with him over their opposing political convictions - he is willing to risk his children's lives by defying the Germans and she will not marry a man who could do so. James Borthwick as family friend Max Detweiler is also not the Hollywood cliche of a German sympathiser but a man trying to stay afloat in a changing world. His and Schraeder's commonsense and wordly wise advice are summed up in two tongue-in-cheek songs nicely performed: How Can Love Survive and No Way To Stop It.
The Sixteen Going On Seventeen song celebrating female innocence seemed written for this stage version of Maria, rather than Carmen Pretorius as the oldest von Trapp child Liesl. Maria's romance with the widowed Captain von Trapp (Andre Schwartz) seemed rather questionable, as a result, especially with the stage production giving the relationship much less time to develop.
While uncomfortable lovers on the stage, Dickson and Schwartz were sweetly doting parents to the show-stealing moppets who played the von Trapp children. Eighteen children from Singapore have been cast in the parts of the six younger children and take it in turn to appear on stage.
Sunday's line-up won the audience's hearts and hands from the first time they marched on in the well-known introduction scene to meet Maria. Joshua Goh was a bell-voiced Kurt; Sean Harrison carried off his high spot in the So Long, Farewell number with panache and Felicity Bertram was a confident, straight-talking Brigitta. The best lines were reserved for the youngest girl, Gretl, played by Jaime Chew and Marta (Selma Hansen) and Louisa (Abbie Machin) did very well in their small parts.
For me, the highlight of the show was operatically trained Visagie, whose flawless, powerful voice riveted from start to finish, outshining Dickson in their appearances together. There was the heart-stopping opening number as Mother Abbess sang the nuns to prayer, a piece so beautifully staged it is worth the price of admission on its own, and of course power ballad Climb Every Mountain, gloriously pitched and paced to lift the audience out of their seats. Her performance illustrated just why The Sound Of Music has endured so long and won so many fans - my heart wanted to sing every song it heard.