Lucy O’Byrne & Gray O’Brien bring the Sound of Music to the Playhouse

The Sound of Music UK Tour - Lucy O'Byrne as Maria'' 'Pic: Mark Yeoman
The Sound of Music UK Tour - Lucy O'Byrne as Maria'' 'Pic: Mark Yeoman
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THE hills . . . well the stalls and grand circle of the Playhouse anyway . . . will be alive with the sound of music as the evergreen Rodgers and Hammerstein favourite The Sound of Music rolls into the Greenside Place venue for the first week of the year.

Based on Baroness Maria von Trapp’s 1949 autobiography, this new staging of the popular musical tells the true story of the world-famous singing family, from their romantic beginnings and search for happiness, to their thrilling escape to freedom as their beloved Austria becomes part of the Third Reich at the start of the Second World War.

Lucy O’Byrne, fresh from her success on BBC One’s The Voice, plays the title role of Maria.

Recalling how she landed the role O’Byrne says, “The people from Bill Kenwright [the show’s producer] contacted my agent and my theatrical agent pretty much as soon as The Voice ended.

“I then had three rounds of auditions and I was really put through my paces.

“They knew I could sing - you come second on The Voice and it’s an obvious assumption,” she laughs. “But they have to make sure they can trust you to take the pressure, because Maria really is the centre of the whole story. She carries a lot of it.

“But it was good fun and an interesting process and it was really nice to meet the people at Kenwright’s and to meet Bill himself, who was lovely.”

O’Byrne, who hails from Dublin, became a household name last year when, with Will.i.am as her mentor, she became the first classical singer to reach the final of the TV talent search show. She can barely hide her delight at the way her career has gone since.

“Being offered the part was amazing, I’m not going to lie. I did cry a little bit.

“When I moved in to my current house, my house mate had already been living there, and all around the house had framed pictures of Julie Andrews. One of them was the original Sound of Music poster, so when I got the news we both had a little bit of a moment in the kitchen when I got the phone call.”

The Sound of Music marks O’Byrne’s musical theatre debut and one of the biggest challenges for the singer has been losing her Irish accent for the role.

“Maria will have a received pronunciation accent, so I’m sure there will be plenty of people around to help me out.

“As I’ve been in the UK for the last two years, my Irish accent is softening, so hopefully I won’t find it too hard.”

“Performing is in my blood but I am nervous. As a debut it’s huge... there’s big pressure because it’s such an important show to so many people.

“Everyone knows it and so many people have their own idea of who Maria should be, but I just want to make it my own.

“I’m really looking forward to going to Edinburgh because I have never been.”

Her co-star, award-winning actor and TV heart-throb Gray O’Brien, is no stranger to the Capital - he plays the dashing Captain von Trapp.

With a career that has spanned more than two decades, he is best loved for his memorable roles in Peak Practice, Casualty and, of course, Coronation Street.

“I got a phone call asking me if I’d like to play Captain von Trapp - ‘Thank you very much, yes I would’,” he says, when asked how he got the role.

“It was a slight worry because I’ve never done a musical before, but I’m here and having fun.

“It was something I wanted to do, I wanted to tick another box and it’s such a great role.

“The Captain is surrounded by so many fabulous singers but it is an acted role that drifts into song and for me it’s completely different.

“I’ve never been in the middle of a scene when an underscore starts and you have to stop the spoken words and burst into song.”

The unforgettable score features some of the most memorable songs ever performed on stage, including Edelweiss, My Favourite Things, Do-Re-Mi, Climb Ev’ry Mountain, So Long, Farewell and of course, the title song, The Sound of Music.

“It’s a great show with great songs and I’m also of an age where The Sound of Music was the Christmas film on telly every year,” says O’Brien.

“Before Pixar and Toy Story, all we had was The Wizard of Oz and the Sound of Music, so we’ve all inadvertently seen it 20 or 30 times.

“Captain von Trapp is a very complex character, he’s still grieving over the passing of his first wife, he’s a very non-tactile father, he has a governess running his kids’ lives, he’s off schmoozing around Switzerland and then Maria turns up and shakes things up.

“And the amazing thing is that it’s based on a true story; this actually happened. So it’s an emotional journey.”

Jan Hartley, who plays the Mother Abbess, first saw the movie version when she was just six-years-old, “My father took me to see it in the cinema and it can’t have been out that long,” she recalls.

“I became completely obsessed, so much so that I nagged him to take me all the time, I must have seen it 20 times.

“My Christmas present that year was the vinyl album of the soundtrack, I played it all the time and learned every song.

“I used to run up and down the street singing The Hills Are Alive and my mother told me that my next-door neighbour came out once and said, “I hear the flipping hills are still flipping well alive,” she laughs.

That childhood dream came true many years later when Hartley found herself playing the coveted role.

“When I played Maria, which was in 1985/86, I realised it’s one of those shows that you love being in because you love performing the music.

“There are shows that you’re in and you think, yeah, this is nice, and the audiences love it, but this is something that’s so fantastic.

“Every single tune is amazing, we all know them all, they’re all memorable, but a favourite song? I think possibly Something Good, the love duet.”

Right now though, it’s the Mother Abbess that has Hartley captivated.

“The fact that she’s such an experienced woman and has developed a calmness in her life,” attracted me to the role.

“She has a maturity, which is a great qualification for being Mother Abbess because obviously you have to look after all the nuns.

“Interestingly enough, the calmness of the role actually helps to keep me calm on stage. There’s a kindness and surety, and the maturity that comes with age.

“I think Jenny Agutter as Sister Julienne in Call The Midwife is a great role model for the part, actually. More so than the Mother in the film, I would say. She’s just that little bit kinder and a little bit more understanding, which is what I’m trying to do.

“It’s all about being firm but fair and kind.”

The Sound of Music, Playhouse, Greenside Place, until Saturday, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), £13.40-£48.90, 0844 871 3014