First Night: The Sound of Music, London Palladium, London

There was certainly a mountain to climb, but this production scaled the summit
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The Independent Culture

In her live Sixties concerts, Barbra Streisand used to do a comic routine where she performed quick skits of famous songs. Her one for "The Sound of Music" was - "The hills are alive - and that's pretty frightening...!" But the hills are alive and that's pretty wonderful in Jeremy Sams's adorable revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic at the London Palladium. The only people likely to be less than jubilant about this latest addition to the West End's miracle season of musicals are the producers of the top-notch rival shows. In their offices this morning, I expect there'll be not the sound of music, but the sound of moaning.

In some respects, it's a weird occasion. This must be the first musical premiere where the leading man is a next-to-last-minute replacement and where the leading lady was voted into the position by the public as a result of her efforts in a television talent contest. But Alexander Hanson is excellent as Captain von Trapp, skilfully negotiating the transition from the child-fearing stiffness of bereavement to the solid integrity of the good father and Nazi-defying Austrian citizen. And the moment when he allows the sound of music to melt his iced heart by joining the superb children in their heavenly rendition of the title song would make even the hardest eye mist with tears.

As for the big question - does Connie Fisher, winner of TV's How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?, solve the problem of how you play Maria under such intense scrutiny - the answer is: you bet. She's enchantingly fresh and ardent and she sings with a voice that can range from piping purity to soft tenderness. That's the test : you want her to be your naughty big sister and your reliable mother combined. In her acting, too (though it is as yet less spontaneous than her singing) Fisher combines a gawky tomboy quality with the moral mettle of a young woman who will obey authority only when she respects it.

There's a lovely comic moment when, as she's about to enter the Abbey for her wedding, she forgets that she is supposed to be a lady and starts rushing off as though on her way to climb a tree. Then she remembers and reverts to a stately march.

Sams does a terrific job with the direction, aided by Arlene Phillips's knock-out choreography. The "Do-re-mi" sequence builds marvellously: as the children shift from suspicion of Maria to complete conversion, the dancing and the miming of the explanatory activities gets ever more wittily uninhibited while remaining (in production terms) totally disciplined. Where did they find these kids?

Lesley Garrett is phenomenal, gates-of-heaven-battering voice as the Mother Abbess and she signals with warm wit this head nun's understanding of Maria.

There is something automatically camp about a show with nuns (and thank God that's true here too) but I must also emphasize that your heart lifts and your whole body resonates to their rapturous choral singing.

Robert Jones's sets are beautiful; the costumes are beautiful; the children are beautiful - even ze orchestra iz beautiful. Andrew Lloyd Webber's production hits town a few weeks after the opening of Rufus Norris's brilliantly dark version of Cabaret. Sams demonstrates, however, that it's wrong to deprecate The Sound of Music's depiction of creeping Nazism.

Climb every mountain? Sure, and after this show you'll want to do a little dance, too, on the summit.