The Sound of Music

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Manchester’s Palace Theatre well and truly came to life last night as the audience leapt to their feet to give the stars of The Sound of Music, most notably Lucy O’Byrne (Maria) and Megan Llewellyn (Mother Abbess) a well-deserved standing ovation.

Set in Austria in 1938 on the eve of the Anschluss which saw Austria unite with Germany as a country under the Third Reich, the threat of the Nazis is ever presents as we follow the Von Trapp’s from the grandeur of their comfortable beginnings to their daring escape from the Nazis.

Lucy O’Byrne takes on the iconic role made famous by Julie Andrews in the 1965 film with charm and charisma. Gentle and kind but with a steely strong will she faces her fears head on as after being appointed Governess, she gently guides the Von Trapp’s from the limbo of grief after losing their mother to living life to its absolute fullest, all through the medium of song, well this is a musical after all!

O’Byrne’s vocals are faultless, her voice smooth and soothing with beautiful clarity. Her interactions with her fellow cast members particularly the seven Von Trapp children, heart-warming and joyful. She has genuine warmth and succeeds entirely in making the role her own. Instantly likeable she captivates entirely.

The Von Trapp children played by three sets of children throughout the tour are the marching machines the Captain has trained who burst with energy and enthusiasm the minute Maria plays the first chord of Do-Re-Mi. They shine on stage and are a delight to watch. Special mention goes to Katie Shearman who portrays eldest daughter Liesl with real emotion, her duet with Rolf (Jordan Oliver) a real highlight.

Neil McDermott is an aloof and distant Captain Von Trapp who transforms into a loving and generous father, it is a somewhat instant transformation that feels a little forced and awkward, he seems much more comfortable however in Act II and demonstrates real and heart-felt emotion towards his children, his new wife and his beloved Austria.

A real highlight are the sisters of the Abbey, proving that Rodgers and Hammerstein’s melodic score remains as timeless as ever. Their ensemble performances are exquisite with the cherry on the cake being the breathtakingly beautiful performance from Megan Llewellyn who receives one of the biggest cheers of the night at the curtain call. The power and beauty in her voice is awe-inspiring.

From stunning costumes to Gary McCann’s intricate and sweeping set this is a lavish and hugely entertaining production. Featuring classic after classic such as the delightful My Favourite Things, the charming The Lonely Goatherd and the inspiring Climb Ev’ryMountain, The Sound of Music has it all. There are a few numbers which will be unfamiliar to many, mostly those sung by Elsa Schraeder (Kara Lane) and Max Detweiler (Howard Samuels) cut unfortunately from the film but making a very welcome return to this production and adding depth to the characters. Lane and Samuels make for a great duo, bouncing of each other wonderfully in each of their scenes together.

Visually beautiful and packed with powerful performances, The Sound of Music does not disappoint. This heart-warming tale with an important message at its core will entertain both young and old alike, ensuring this classic will easily remain an audience favourite for many, many more years to come. You’ll leave the theatre with a smile on your face and a warmth in your heart.

On at the Palace theatre until Saturday 17th March tickets available here.

Interview | Neil McDermott | The Sound of Music

Neil McDermott Headshot

Manchester’s Palace Theatre is soon to be alive with the sound of music as Bill Kenwright’s critically acclaimed production heads into town.

The five star production sees Lucy O’Byrne returning to the iconic role of Maria, a performance which led to Lucy being described asquite possibly the best Maria since Julie Andrews herself” (The Scotsman).  Joining Lucy as Captain Von Trapp will be former EastEnders actor and West End star Neil McDermott.

Neil who was most recently seen in the city as Chief Weasel in the hugely successful The Wind in the Willows is delighted to be joining this production of The Sound of Music which has been receiving rave reviews across the country.

We caught up with Neil ahead of the show’s arrival at the Palace Theatre on Tuesday 13th March to hear a little more about his role, his thoughts on the show and his thoughts on Manchester.

ON – You’re playing Captain Von Trapp who goes on a real journey from when we first meet him compared to the end of the show, is it a fun role to play?

NM – It is a real emotional journey, he’s quite down and depressed at the beginning of the show, he’s lost his wife some time ago and is left to father the seven children and is finding it all very difficult. He’s trying to move on but finding that difficult emotionally and also at the same time there’s a continual threat from the Third Reich taking over Austria which is playing heavy on his mind as well. Maria then comes into the household and spends lots of time with the children and manages to free the Captain from his slumber/depression and they fall in love and he manages to re-find himself. It’s a great role to play as recently I’ve been playing lots of physical roles lots of comedy villains, so to get the opportunity to play the Captain is a great one and one that I was really pleased I was able to do.

ON – Is it more challenging to take on a role that people know well or to create something entirely new?

NM – Both are challenging in different ways, creating something new is a challenge as you want to make sure you create something new, exciting and interesting, creating something people know well you still have to create something new and fresh but I guess you’re dealing with the audience knowing the character from previous productions, perhaps the film or TV series in this case, a role is nothing if you don’t bring your own personality and sense of humour so my job is to tell the story as convincingly and as sensitively as I can with all the skills I possess. It’s a big role and a big challenge.

ON – Will the staging of the production be in keeping with the style of the film?

NM – The staging is beautiful, it’s not exactly like the film as the stage version is different in parts to the film, the stage version actually came before the film version and there are songs in the stage version which aren’t in the film version. There will be differences but you can tell it’s the same show, the show has a wonderful Austrian feel and our designers have really captured that beautifully as it was captured so well in the film too.

ON – The Sound of Music is such a fan favourite, what are your first memories of it?

NM – I actually played the part of Rolf 11 years ago now in the London Palladium version when Connie Fisher played Maria, so that was really my first memories of The Sound of Music; before I auditioned I watched the film then had a year of doing the show.

ON – With so many classic songs in the show are you able to pick a favourite?

NM – The Lonely Goatherd, it’s a song where Maria and the children are having fun, in the stage version they sing it when there’s lots of thunder and lightning outside so they use it as a song to cheer themselves up it’s a really fantastic song.

ON – As a lifelong Evertonian how is it working with Bill Kenwright?

NM – It’s very interesting for me, this was the first time for me auditioning for him and as you do with a Bill Kenwirght show when you get to that last stages you go up to his office and you see all the pictures and memorabilia of all the Everton players and managers, it’s quite something when you’re in that room and I suppose as an Everton fan I was almost more affected by that than I was the show! He’s a great guy and we’ve had lots of great chats about the show and about my character, he’s been really supportive of me, I’ve nothing but positive things to say about him.

ON – Do you have any pre-show rituals?

NM – I always make sure I prepare as well as possible, I make sure I warm up, both physically and vocally, I always keep a bit of ginger around and chew on that to a liven my vocal chords ahead of every performance.

ON – What are you most looking forward to about heading to Manchester?

NM – I’ve performed at the Lowry a couple of times but never at the Palace theatre, I’m really looking forward to it, it’s a beautiful theatre, a huge space. I always have a good time in Manchester, it’s a great city with a lot of great people and a lot of theatrical history, you can sense that when you perform for Manchester audiences, they really know what they are watching and have a good eye for good theatre, it’s a pleasure to perform for the Manchester public

ON – With Manchester being the final stop on the tour are you able to tell us where we can see you next?

Not at the moment, as we come to the end of the tour I’ll be out auditioning again, so there’s nothing I can tell you right now but of course I’m looking for something to do after this show.

On at the Palace Theatre from Tuesday 13th March until Saturday 17th March, tickets available here.