t’s not often a member of our photography team is left completely lost for words. But that’s exactly what happened when several cast members of the Von Trapp Family Singers visited our studio and broke into an impromptu song. Their melodic and unrehearsed rendition of Do Re Mi almost had Juliette off her stepladder (she was taking a few arty shots from above at the time) while I forgot my extreme tone-deafness and couldn’t help but join in. But, to be fair, it’s not easy to contain yourself when you hear some of the best-loved songs from your childhood being belted out with such aplomb.
In fact, although the adult cast of the show consists of several well-respected Broadway and West End actors and actresses, the kids who perform the parts of Liesel, Friedrich, Kurt, Brigitta, Marta and Gretl, (the six Von Trapp children) have all been found locally.
Lucy Hunter-James, a producer with Popular Productions, and Maria in the show, described the audition process as ‘something like The X-Factor’. ‘It’s a testament to the talent of the children who were eventually picked because the auditions were really tough’, she says. ‘We held them over one weekend and more than 280 children tried out for the roles of the Von Trapp children. In the end we selected 18 local kids. We have three teams of children playing them so that they can take turns in the actual performances.’
Luca Parkinson, aged 11, won the role of Kurt. He says, ‘Getting the part in the musical is like a dream come true for me. I’ve always wanted to be an actor and I’ve been in plays at my school, but nothing that I’ve actually had to audition for. The auditions were a lot easier than I thought they’d be – although there were some tricky moments.’
Children were asked to select a song to sing solo, they then had to learn a dance routine, and after that, sing another solo, this time from The Sound of Music. ‘It took me ages to decide which song I should sing in the first phase,’ says Luca. ‘My mum kept making these suggestions about really old classics I’d never even heard of, so it was hard to make up my mind. In the end I decided to sing Consider Yourself, from the musical Oliver. I found some footage of it on YouTube and practised like mad. The last stage of the audition was the hardest, because normally I can’t sing that well high-pitched, but I made it in the end.’
Other cast members, such as Pheobe Greybanks and Cian Gazeley (both Marta) and Dalia Ahmadi (Brigitta) are old hands when it comes to theatrical performances. Pheobe says, ‘I was in You Can’t Stop the Beat and Aladdin, so this isn’t the first time I’ve been on stage. It’s very exciting and I love singing.’ Dalia adds, ‘I played Little Inez in Hairspray, and I was also one of the lead orphans in Annie. I love the whole process of putting the performance together. The best bit is all the new friends you make. It’s so much fun.’
Fun it might be, but it’s also a lot of hard work, which will require dedication from the children – and their parents. ‘It’s not easy. They do have to be committed to the show,’ says Lucy, who explains that, although there are only two weeks of stage rehearsals prior to opening night, all of the children must learn their parts prior to that, and bring a little of their own personalities to the roles.
‘We have three groups of children performing, and the challenge they have is to make those roles their own, rather than just following the stage directions. The groups also have to work well together – they have to be a believable family. Considering that they will only meet their dad (Captain Von Trapp) on the second day of rehearsals, that’s quite a tough call.’
All the children have had to get to grips with the technicalities of being on stage, including lighting cues, acting while wearing microphones, and fast costume changes. ‘It’s not easy – especially in The Sound of Music, because the children are in a lot of scenes and work with almost every other cast member,’ says Lucy. ‘It’s challenging – but it’s an amazing experience for them too. And for those that have never been part of a professional production before, the learning curve is steep. By closing night, the difference in their confidence is huge because they’ve achieved so much. And the next time they go for an audition they’ll know exactly what to do.’
Cornelius O’Driscoll, 12, who plays Friedrich, is new to professional theatre. ‘I’ve always liked acting and, on parent’s evening, my teacher told my parents that I should try it out.’ he says. ‘I was a bit nervous about the auditions before they started but, once we all got going, it was fine. I am dreading the bit where Friedrich goes very high-pitched in the Goodbye song though. The bit I’m most looking forward to is actually being on stage. I want to be an actor, so this is a brilliant experience for me.’
His sentiments are echoed by other cast members, who, far from being wracked with stage fright, just can’t wait for opening night. Isabella Brimson, aged seven, is one of the three little girls who play Gretl. ‘This is the first big play I’ve done and I’m very excited. I’m most looking forward to doing So Long, Farewell because I love the dance routine. When it comes to songs, My Favourite Things is the one I like the best. Everyone keeps asking if I’ll be nervous, but I’m not at all.’
Lucy adds, ‘Acting is a wonderful way to help a child to develop confidence. I’m very glad we’ve been able to offer so many children the chance to take part in such a fun show. There will be tears when it’s all over – I can guarantee that!’
The Sound of Music produced by Popular Productions is at the Madinat First Group Theatre from April 11 to 23 (no performance on April 17) Tickets cost Dhs170 each from www.soundofmusicdubai.com and www.timeouttickets.com.