As The Sound of Music Children’s Director Frank Thompson prepares his troops for rehearsal in a room backstage at the London Palladium, it’s not so much the hills are alive with the sound of music, more the room’s alive with the sound of stomping, as Liesls, Friedrichs, Louisas, Kurts, Brigittas, Martas and Gretls alike march and shout their way through a warm-up.
But with the muscles stretched and the vocal chords warmed up, it’s time for the real business to begin. The 16 children (two members of the children’s company, Suzy Oxenham and George Hinson, were absent for the rehearsal we attended), who range in age from 6 – 12, together with ‘their’ Liesls, divide into three teams: the Jetsons, the Flintstones and the Simpsons. Each team comprises its own set of Von Trapps, with the groups all taking their turn to perform on the famous stage alongside Summer Strallen as Maria.
As Frank takes the groups through their paces, polishing up famous tracks such as “So Long, Farewell” and “The Lonely Goatherd,” it’s clear that being part of the West End adaptation of one of the world’s best-loved musicals isn’t all raindrops on roses – with some of the world’s most well-known songs to sing, as well as lines to learn and costume changes to perfect, it must be a nerve-wracking experience?
“I get nervous before I come on marching,” says Samantha Allison, who plays Gretl in the Flintstones team. Her fellow Gretl, Amelia White (Simpsons team) agrees. “I get quite nervous because on my first night, up the stairs I was like, ‘this is my first show – I don’t want to go onstage!’'” And even the boys admit to it. “I do still get nervous, but when you’re onstage it goes away and you’re totally fine,” says Adam Hargreaves, who plays Kurt (Simpsons team.) SOM kids part 2 – 2
So what’s it like, being part of The Sound of Music?
“The greatest thing is just the feeling you get… you go, ‘wow’ – this is a huge step. It’s just amazing,” says James Meaden, who plays Friedrich (Jetsons team).
Chloe Panayi (Gretl in the Jetsons team) agrees. “It’s really quite fun,” she says. “All I do is pretend it’s just rehearsal onstage and it’s just brilliant.”
Most of the children currently appearing in the show began the audition process in September 2008, but for Jadie-Rose Hobson, Yasmin Garrad and Dora Gee, this is not their first time. “Me and Yasmin did the show before, as Marta,” says Jadie-Rose – who, along with Yasmin, now plays Brigitta – while Dora Gee, now playing the role of Marta (Simpsons team) has previously appeared as Gretl.
Between them, the current crop of Sound of Music children have appeared in West End productions of Billy Elliot and Les Miserables, TV shows including Space Pirates and Chuggingtons, theatrical productions such as the Gielgud’s 2007 production of Macbeth and numerous school and local community performances. Some attend stage schools, such as London’s Sylvia Young Theatre School and The Wenn Stage School in Ilford, while for others, after-school and weekend drama classes at schools such as Stage by Stage Theatre Arts in South London and Kent’s D&B Theatre School are where they learn the ropes.
So with such a variety of experiences, what’s next, after the show finishes?
“I’d like to go on the [2009 UK] tour of The Sound of Music, that would be so fun,” says Sammy Graham (Louisa in the Flintstones team). The Kurts agree, and Richard Linnell (Kurt in the Jetsons team) would also like to be in Cameron Makintosh’s current London production of Oliver!. Some, like Max Gordon (Friedrich in the Flintstones team) want to explore other areas – Max says, “I like musical theatre, but I think I’d prefer to go on and do… [something] like the stuff in the National Theatre. Because when I see that I think ‘wow, I’d love to be in one of them.'”
For others, future plans are already set: “Before I did [The Sound of Music], I was working on The Shadowmaster at the King’s Head Theatre and they’re going to film that, so that will be good,” says Naomi Preston-Low (Brigitta in the Flintsones team), while Yasmin Garrad (Brigitta in the Jetsons team) will be providing voices for a new children’s cartoon to be shown on children’s TV channel CBeebies.
The show has definitely created friendships – Martas Dora Gee (Simpsons team), Eleanor Shaw (Flintsones team) and Sophie Wythe (Jetsons team) have already had a sleepover together. So are there any bad parts of being in the show? Well, the Louisas do have one thing to report… the 15-second quick-change during the famous concert scene is not a favourite.
Laura Owens (Louisa in the Simpsons team) explains: “you have to run over behind the sofa in the house, then the curtain comes down and you have to run over to your dresser, you have to stretch and she takes your shirt off and she throws this dress over you, then you have to put your arms in and do it up at the front, and then she puts on your apron and ties it.”
Both Laura and Sammy Graham have had problems with this. “During one quick-change my shoe came off with my skirt and I tried to put it back on but it wouldn’t go – and then finally when I did get it on, I was supposed to be onstage – so I had to go on behind Gretl,” reports Sammy, while Laura’s mishap involved an unstitched apron and a missed cue. “Sometimes Louisa is late on and has to go at the end of the line, by Gretl… and sometimes Gretl has to start marching while they’re still running into the line,” Sophie Wythe (Marta in the Jetsons team) confides.
With such things to contend with on a nightly basis, its not surprising rehearsals are still necessary… and as Frank calls the children back, we’ve just got one last question. Do you ever google yourself? “Yeah – mine came up with a football player called Aaron Etheridge,” says Aaron Wetheridge (Kurt in the Flintsones team). And as Adam Hargreaves (Kurt in the Simpsons team) reports: “I’m on the London Theatre Database now – I think we all are!”
And on this site too, of course…
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