Singing family saga

AN AURAL and visual treat is what director Bryan Flynn is promising audiences with his production of The Sound of Music at the Cork Opera House.

This is the second time that Flynn has directed the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, which is based on the true story of the Austrian singing family, the Von Trapps, and their escape over the Alps from the Nazis. (Flynn first directed the musical in 2004 at the Cork Opera House.)

Flynn draws attention to the dark aspect of the story: “Because it’s a musical, we tend to look at The Sound of Music with rose tinted glasses. But on closer examination, it’s quite dark or you could say it’s an uplifting story set against a dark time.”

What people remember about the show and the movie (starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer) are the happy songs such as ‘My favourite Things,’ ‘Climb Every Mountain’ ‘Do-Re-Mi’ and the title song. But The Sound of Music is about a family that has to flee their home, leaving everything behind.

Over 400 children auditioned for the musical. Two teams of six children, who will perform on alternate nights, were chosen. They are led by the eldest child, Liesl, played by Ellie Mullane. Over 100 adults auditioned for the show. Altogether, there is a cast of 38, led by Carol Anne Ryan as the governess, Maria, and Michael Sands as Captain Von Trapp. Linda Kenny plays the glamorous Baroness Schrader, the captain’s would-be fiancée.

“I’m very proud that we managed to cast this show completely in Cork,” says Flynn. “Normally, with a show like this, you might be looking to bring in specific talent. We managed to get Cara O’Sullivan, who plays the Mother Abbess. The three nuns under her are all originally from the Cork School of Music.”

The love story between Captain Von Trapp and Maria is helped by “the fantastic chemistry between them. The show is a little different to the movie. In the movie version a lot of the songs were cut. I think the stage show is much better written. There are meatier scenes between Maria and Von Trapp that were not used in the movie.”

Flynn has designed the set himself. “I’ve done quite a few sets, including Man of La Mancha a couple of years ago, Jesus Christ Superstar and Michael Collins. With some shows, I have one or two design ideas that I hand over to a designer. But with other shows, I have an instinct for what needs to be done. I knew I wanted to design this show. It takes place in two main locations, the baroque villa in Austria and a convent. They are the two main locations of Maria’s world and the challenge is to portray two completely different worlds. There’s the dark austere world where people barely speak to one another and there’s the brighter world that is full of life. We’re playing a lot with lighting in this show. It’s very visual.”

Ryan admits that the spectre of Julie Andrews hangs over her as she takes on the role of Maria. “It’s important that I try to make the role my own while at the same time, being the character that people are expecting. Julie Andrews did such a fantastic job. It’s great to try and live up to her, but I’m finding my own way. My character has a fantastic journey. You first see her in the hills, all carefree. By the end of the show, she has a husband and seven children to look after. It’s quite a big transition for the character.”

Maria is feisty, says Ryan. “She speaks before she thinks and she stands her ground, always saying what she believes. She mightn’t always speak at the right time but her heart is always in the right place. She means well. She really turns the family’s lives around. The Captain [who is widowed] never thought he would find love again and Maria never expected to find love. She thought she was going to be a nun.”

Maria is the biggest role Ryan has ever taken on. She trained as an actor in London, she has done some directing as well as teaching in Cork and has played the lead female in pantomimes at the Helix in Dublin.

“A musical is very different from a pantomime. You need to be more genuine. I’m enjoying the challenge.”

Ryan has worked with Sands in Michael Collins: The Musical, but never opposite him. “Captain Von Trapp is a bit scary at the beginning, but Maria stands up to him and answers him back, which he’s not used to. By the end, you see a softer side to him. From the beginning of the show, I want the audience to be willing us to get together. Hopefully, we’re doing a good job.”

It’s poetic justice that Sands has won the role of Captain von Trapp. As an 11-year-old boy, he auditioned for The Sound of Music at the Cork Opera House. “I was absolutely devastated when I didn’t get the part. It has taken me nearly 30 years to get back to it,” he says, laughing. How is he approaching the role? “Captain von Trapp is not particularly nasty. It’s just that he is stern because he has been brought up in an era of sternness. Circumstances such as his wife dying so young means that he reverts back to what he knows best. It’s that whole military style. But when Maria comes into his life, you see the soft underbelly of his character.”

Sands says his role is demanding, requiring many accomplishments, including being able to dance. “The only thing I have to do which I haven’t done before is play the guitar. I play the piano all right but not the guitar. I’m spending as much time learning my lines as I am playing the guitar.”

Cork-born Sands has recently been touring with Flynn’s GAA musical, The All Star Wars. Moving between England, the US and Ireland, Sands enjoys a varied career which has included a stint at the London Palladium in Fiddler on the Roof starring Topol. He has also “ended up in Les Miserables and Riverdance over the years. I travel a lot with my work. I was in Seattle and Miami doing Hey Mr Producer.”

Sands originally trained with the Montforts. “Eileen Nolan (director of the Montforts) was phenomenal to me. When all I wanted to do was play football, she managed to stick with me. That woman has put some of the best actors from this city through her school. In this production alone, I’ve counted six people who had connections with the Montforts maybe 20 years ago. Her contribution to theatre and to my life has been immense.”

Sands is enjoying being back in his native city where “the theatrical community is holding its own.” He adds that it’s great to be back in the Cork Opera House where he started. Being turned down for a role in The Sound of Music as a young boy is now a distant memory.

* The Sound of Music is at Cork Opera House from Friday until Aug 18.

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