Dalriada is alive to the Sound of Music

IN an educational time zone dominated by target and measurement, it is good to be reminded that sometimes the things which are incapable of such measurement are actually the very essence and heart-beat of what a good school is all about.

How can we gauge the value of participation in the experience of a magical school show such as Dalriada’s “Sound of Music”? Who can estimate the contribution to the development of skills and personal attributes, of self-esteem and self-confidence, engendered by such involvement? When grades have been long forgotten, memories of “The Sound of Music” 2008 will certainly endure!

And this was a memorable show, for audience as well as participants! Dalriada’s depth of talent shows no sign of diminishing; the long tradition of musical and dramatic excellence continues and, given the standard of performance of the junior members of this cast and orchestra, will endure into the foreseeable future! Casting in Dalriada must be a nightmare; a bit like the All Blacks, a second or third string selection could do the business with equally telling results! How do you solve a problem like which Maria?

The nun’s chorus, 36 strong, probably contained a dozen possibles, not to mention several excellent Liesls and Elsas! Indeed, in the spectrum of excellence of this production, the most vibrant memory is the sound of that very chorus; singing of the highest, hair-tingling quality; Anuna-like, rather than Sister Act, particularly when they brought their close harmonies down the aisles into the audience! What a backdrop for Maria to perform against! And perform she did… a sweet, yet strong and sometime humourous portrayal of one of the most loved roles in the history of musicals.

Esther-Ruth McKendry has a wonderful voice and a winning face…. any Captain would have been fighting a losing battle not to have been captivated by this trainee nun! Cormac McCartney was the essence of serious sobriety; not as over-bearing as some Captain Von Trapps, Cormac had a vulnerability which provoked a sense empathy in the audience… we were relieved for him when Elsa recognised the incongruity of her pursuit and took her leave, just in time for the inevitable, if slightly sudden, admission of mutual love on the part of Georg and Maria.

The children, as usual, tended to steal the show, none more so than tiny Sarah Hadden and Katie McNeill, both charmingly pretty as Gretl. Hannah Todd was convincing as Liesl in her first love; Rolf, the subject of her affection, was confidently played by Jonny McLaughlin; by his own admission, kissing comes naturally, so it was good to witness his quick breath-check before engaging in the old lip exercise… we’ve all been there, Jonny! Richard McMaster was a tallish and rather serious Friedrich, Yasmin Walker a very attractive and mischievous Louisa, while Sarah Swanson and Emma Christie were perfectly cast as Brigitta and Marta, excellent singers both of them!

Robbie Craig, who played Kurt, stands out as having huge potential; we will surely see him on the stage again in leading roles. Before saying “Adieu” to the children, tribute must be paid to the people behind their various costumes; indeed the whole production was characterised by exquisite and precise costuming; the eye to detail and the perfection of choice of dress says much of those responsible behind the scenes. What a selection of dress for the Baroness from Winsome Lady, and what a superb wedding dress for Maria from Star Tiara! In similar vein, huge credit to those who designed and provided a wonderful set; the bedroom scene stands out in particular.

So to the Baroness! Lizzie Fleming gave an outstanding performance and all but stole the show. She was smooth, dark chocolate over raw lemon, a highly expressionate and amusing range of facial contortions, a tremendous vocal talent and a great stage presence. Good luck to her in whichever theatre she decides to act!

While most of the show was delivered in flawlessly refined accents, Peter Loughery played Uncle Max with something closer to Stranocum twang. This took a little getting used to, simply because of its juxtaposition with the sophisticated speak of the Baroness and Captain. It was, however, a “grower” and by the end I really warmed, (worryingly), to the vivacious limp-wristed Herr Detweiler. Seldom can the Nazi salute have been delivered with such panache; a hilarious performance!

Kathryn McFall as the Mother Abbess was another star, soaring majestically to the top of her vocal mountain… what a voice! She was ably supported by her side-kick nuns, Jessica Morrison, Clarissa McMaster and Hannah McConaghie. Deborah Crooks was a brisk efficient Frau Schmidt while butler Ben Graham gave a suitably irreverent performance behind his developing facial hair. (Two swipes of a razor and he would have looked much like Mein Furher himself.)

Stephanie McCracken was a fleeting but seductive Ursula. Christy Gregg led his Nazi team very convincingly and in this respect the idea of two huge spotlights switching from lighting the “show within a show” to searching the audience for the escaping Von Trapps was a clever touch.

Conor Morrison and Richard Lee gave sound performances as Admiral and Baron respectively and were wonderfully funny in their weird “dance” routine at the end. Earlier we were treated to some beautifully choreographed waltzing, while the dances of the central couples skilfully high-lighted the growing chemistry in their relationships.

Dalriada is blessed to have someone of the calibre and charisma of Heather Montgomery leading its music department. Her preparation of the choral work, of the groups and soloists and of the orchestra is the bedrock for the success of this show, as with so many in the past.

As Dalriada moves into new and unchartered educational waters, the school is to be commended for its developing vision in opening up opportunities at all levels for local people to use and develop their talent. The decision to bring in Neil and Paul McMaster to produce “The Sound of Music” has been well and truly vindicated; warmest congratulations are due to them for the highly professional staging of this most memorable show.