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Behind the scenes with the Sound of Music children  
In the first of our sneaky peaks at a Sound of Music children's rehearsal, we speak to Children's Director Frank Thompson.
The children line up

Since it opened at the London Palladium in July 2006, dozens and dozens of children have taken to the stage in the Really Useful Group’s production of The Sound of Music. With three children taking it in turns to play each of the 6 young Von Trapp children – Friedrich, Louisa, Kurt, Brigitta, Marta and Gretl – and a typical contract lasting three months, that’s quite a lot of  “Do-Re-Mi”-ing to organise.

But organised they are. Every time a new set of children comes in to the show, Children’s Director Frank Thompson and his team spend eight weeks working with all eighteen children alongside ‘their’ Liesls – currently Rebecca Lucie, who is understudied in the role by Ensemble member Claire Fishenden (first cover) and Swing Clara Beauchamp (second cover). During a ‘clean-up’ rehearsal last week, where Frank took the current children’s cast members through their paces in order to identify any loose ends, the Liesls led their teams through numbers including “My Favorite Things” and “Do-Re-Mi.”

“It takes six weeks to rehearse the children, and that includes ‘tech-ing them’, because the show is quite technical,” says Frank. In other words, not only do the children have to learn their lines and perfect their acting, they also have to know where to stand at what moment, what lights are going to be shining on them, how the sound system will work, and everything else in between. “The fastest costume change they do is 17 seconds – so it is quite a big feat,” says Frank.

So with a lot of children to manage, and all ranging in age from 6 – 12, how do you go about finding the right ones for the right part? “It is a difficult show to cast in comparison to other children’s shows,” Frank admits.

“With something like Oliver! you’re looking for two boys around the same age; or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, two kids exactly the same age… but what we’re trying to do is find from a 6-year-old who can stand on stage and hold their own, because they have to … there are moments in the show when that 6-year-old has to do it by themselves … to the 12-year-old, and the 12-or-13-year-olds are not that easy to come by. Girl-wise, fine, but boys – no. They go through that whole changing thing – voices start moving lower, shoulders start getting broader. And it’s maybe not the hippest and coolest thing to get involved with. So that’s quite difficult.”

And certain devices used to great affect in the show can create even more problems when casting. “We go for that diagonal line – from the smallest to the tallest.” Frank says. “We don’t have to – other productions haven’t done that – but on that first entrance when you get them coming on and they stand in that first line, you go, ‘OK, right.'”

“It’s a device, but it’s also a device that is a restriction to us from a casting point of view. And if you have a small Liesl – well – it becomes more difficult because they get smaller and smaller and smaller…”

The current children’s cast includes two Brigittas – Jadie-Rose Hobson and Yasmin Garrad – who have previously played Marta, and a Marta – Dora Gee – who has previously played Gretl. “That was by pure chance,” Frank says. “It’s not a preconceived thing, because someone who played Marta might not necessarily be right for Brigitta – it’s a different set of tools for each role. So it was pure chance, and their interest in coming back – they went into the audition room with everyone else, back to square one…”

So how is it, watching 7 out of 8 performances of The Sound of Music a week? Despite the potential pitfalls of the Friedrich’s voices breaking and rapid costume changes, Frank is confident – “it’s a fantastic gig,” he says.

***

Jadie-Rose and Yasmin are joined by Naomi Preston Low as Brigitta, while Dora’s fellow Martas are Sophie Wythe and Eleanor Shaw.

Friedrich is played by James Meaden, Max Gordon and George Hinson.

Louisa is played by Suzy Oxenham, Sammy Graham and Laura Owens.

Kurt is played by Richard Linnell, Aaron Wetheridge and Adam Hargreaves.

Gretl is played by Chloe Panayi, Samantha Allison and Amelia White.

Posted on: 22nd December 2008

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