The hills are alive with the sound of music

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One of the greatest musicals of all time will be coming to the stage later this month as part of its 50th anniversary tour.

The Sound of Music is coming to Milton Keynes Theatre from Tuesday, May 26, to Saturday, June 6.

It is part of a tour which marks 50 years since the famous film version starring Julie Andrews.

The extraordinary story of the world famous singing von Trapp family sees Maria, the former novice nun, joined the family as governess to the children – and fell head over heels in love.

But with a world war imminent and the rise of the Nazi party in Germany an ever growing menace, life in their beloved Austria, a country on the brink of being swallowed up by the Third Reich, became as dangerous as it was romantic.

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.

Playing the iconic role of Maria von Trapp in this magnificent new production is Danielle Hope, who captured the hearts of the country when she won BBC Television’s Over the Rainbow and made her professional debut as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz at the London Palladium.

Well-known for his longstanding television roles in Coronation Street and London’s Burning,Olivier-Award nominated actor Steven Houghton is playing the part of Captain von Trapp.

West End stars Jan Hartley and Sarah Soetaert appear as the Mother Abbess and Baroness Elsa Schrader respectively.

Tickets for the show cost between £19.50 and £37 and can be booked by calling the box office on 0844 871 7652 or by visiting www.atgtickets.co.uk/miltonkeynes.

Question and answer session with Steven Houghton

Q: How did you get involved with The Sound of Music?

SH: I got a call quite late on the night before I went to meet Bill Kenwright, and went in to see him and read some lines and muddled through a bit of a song and then got offered the part, so here I am! It was all very quick.

Q: Are you a fan of the musical/film?

SH: Everyone knows The Sound of Music, don’t they? Everybody knows what it is and the wonderful songs that are in it, I think it’s part of everyone’s life.

Q: This is a very big and iconic role to take on – are you nervous?

SH: Not really. With an acting career, things throw you all the time. One week it can be EastEnders, the next week it could be a film, the next week it could be Cats. So when something is thrown up at you and then you look at it, read the script, it’s such a brilliant part, that I’d be a fool not to do it really.

Q: Are you basing your Captain on Christopher Plummer or making him your own?

SH: I think Bill wants me to grow a moustache (Laughs) so we’ll see how that one pans out! You’ve got to play a part your way and be comfortable in your skin doing it, you can’t pretend to be somebody else because if you try and copy a character, you’re on a loser so you’ve got to make it your own.

Q: Favourite song/scene from the movie/musical?

SH: I’ve really enjoyed listening to Danielle sing the songs. Most of them everybody knows and most of them are so lovely. You’ve got Raindrops on Roses, and Edelweiss that I sing, a lovely song. They’re all such powerful melodies that when you hear them, you instantly remember them and it all comes back to you.

Q: Do you know any of your cast mates? How are you all getting on?

SH: No, I knew absolutely nobody. That’s the funny thing, when you get the cast list through, it’s quite nice when you don’t know anybody. No baggage, no stories to tell (laughs). It’s nice as well to get to know new people. I knew who Danielle was, I watched her on Over the Rainbow. I didn’t see her in The Wizard of Oz though, sadly, I’ve got two kids of 15 and 19 and I’m too busy running them around the place, school runs, ballet and everything else.

Q: Will they be coming to see you in this?

SH: My daughter will, my other half will. My son’s always iffy on that one, depends what else he’s got on. In fact, the only thing he’s ever liked me in was Blood Brothers, another one of Bill’s shows, and he came to see me in that about seven times. But everything else I’ve done he turns his nose up (laughs). But Blood Brothers is a boys’ show, and for him, he loves his football, he’s a real boy. But he actually had the cast album which he played in his room and sang along to the words. And usually when he sees me in a musical, such as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, he’ll say, “that’s rubbish”, so Blood Brothers is a very special musical.

Q: Most people will know you from London’s Burning and Coronation Street, but theatre is actually where you started – which do you prefer?

SH: I just think it is a really hard career but a really wonderful career, and when I started I still think now I can’t believe everything I have done, all the different jobs I’ve had, be it in theatre or TV or even a recording contract. When I was younger, all I wanted to be in was The Brian Rogers Connection (dance troupe who performed on the ITV ’78-88 series 3-2-1) and I’ve just done so much more than that, more than I ever thought I would. And if I never did anything else after this job, then it wouldn’t matter.

Q: You also flirted with pop stardom, with a Top 3 single and gold-selling album – how did that happen and why did you stop?

SH: I was in the cast of the musical Martin Guerre and two months into it I got a casting for London’s Burning, my first telly casting, and I got a regular role, it was amazing. And then in episode six or seven, the character sang a song. And Simon Cowell was friends with my agent and he thought it would be a really good idea to release the song, which then sold 600,000 copies. So then I did an album with him and a second single. Then I left London’s Burning and I did a different TV series called Bugs on BBC1 and that’s when the singing fireman thing ended.

Q: What was Simon Cowell like to work with?

SH: He was amazing. We did Top of the Pops and in those days, as the head of RCA, he would come with me for meetings all day. And I’ll never forget, the reception of a hotel or studios where the interviews were being held, which would go on for about three hours. But then we’d leave and he would always remember the lady on reception. What a skill to have. He was very switched on and very polite and very amiable to everybody and made everybody feel important, which I think is amazing.

Q: You’ve toured the UK before with Grease, Miss Saigon and Annie Get Your Gun – what are you looking forward to about this tour?

SH: I’m just going to have fun and embrace it. I can go to the gym during the day and hang out, I’m just going to have a good time.

Question and answer session with Jan Hartley

Q: This is a show you’re more than familiar with having played Maria and Mother Abbess – was it a no-brainer to accept the part?

JH: Absolutely. It is a fantastic part. It’s got the most amazing song which closes Act I and I get to reprise that at the end of Act II, so it’s nice to be able to do it twice. It’s actually a very rewarding role so I’m really enjoying myself.

Q: What is it about the Mother Abbess that attracts you to the role?

JH: I think the fact that she’s such an experienced woman and she’s developed a calmness in her life, and a maturity in the way she looks at everything in life, which is a great qualification for being Mother Abbess because obviously you have to look after all the nuns, look after all their pastoral care, and make sure if they have any problems, worries or issues, you try and put everything in perspective for everybody, I think that’s how it is. Interestingly enough, the calmness of the role actually helps to keep me calm on stage, because you naturally think, “ok, just take everything as it comes”. There’s a kindness and surety, and the maturity that comes with age. I actually 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.

Q: What are your memories about the Sound of Music film? Did you watch it as a child?

JH: My history with the film, and this is quite funny, I was about six years old and my father took me to see it in the cinema and it can’t have been out that long. I became completely obsessed, so much so that I nagged him to take me all the time, so I must have seen it at least 20 times. My Christmas present that year was the vinyl album of the soundtrack and that cover must have been so worn out, I played it all the time and learned every song. I used to run up and down the street singing The Hills Are Alive all the time. 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!” (laughs).

Q: So is that was started your love of musicals and wanting to pursue a career as an actress and singer?

JH: I really think it is, yes. Julie Andrews had an enormous amount to do with it, she’s responsible!

Q: Favourite song/scene from the movie/musical?

JH: When I played Maria, which was in 1985/86 I think, 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. It’s a very difficult one to choose really. Raindrops on Roses, it’s a classic and I get to sing it in the stage version with Maria which is terrific. In the film she doesn’t but a few things have changed around. They altered things for the film which weren’t true for the stage show.

Q: Do you know any of your cast mates? How are you all getting on?

JH: I knew a couple of the cast members, but everyone’s lovely. I knew Martin (Connor, the director) because we’ve actually acted together, he’s actually a very talented actor, so we first met that way, but this is the first time I’ve worked with Martin as a director and he’s fantastic. It’s a terrific team which is great because if you’re on tour with people for six months, it helps if you can get along. We’re all really looking forward to it.

Q: Do Stephen and Danielle make a good Maria and Captain?

JH: I think it’s fantastic casting. Stephen is tall and handsome in a rugged way, so can play the disciplinarian really well. And it’s nice to see him melt. Danielle is just superb, she’s technically wonderful, she’s got a beautiful sense of the role and sings it beautifully, so the casting couldn’t be better.

Q: Any advice for your younger cast members, especially Danielle who is playing Maria for the first time?

JH: I think I’d say pace yourself during the performances, but again, she’s terribly good. Some people who get cast in musicals are cast because they are television names and haven’t had the training behind them so doing eight shows a week is an issue. I would be very surprised if Danielle had any problems that way, she’s had good training. I’d also advise to keep yourself grounded, that’s a very important thing. I always manage to do that, bit showbusiness was never the be all and end all because once that happens, I think you stop being empathetic with the characters you’re playing because you leave your life behind and you’ve got to be able to put your life experiences into the roles you’re playing.

Q: You’ve played some iconic roles in your time - what has been your favourite to date?

JH: Playing Christine in Phantom of the Opera was a wonderful experience which I did for nearly two years and again, I worked with a fantastic creative team and cast. When I was playing her, it was in the days when Phantom hadn’t been open that long and the queues around the theatre went on and on and on. And that was every single performance, so you had the adrenaline and the excitement while also thinking, I’ve got to do this as well as I possibly can because these people have waited months for their tickets, they’re queuing up in all weathers to see the show!

Q: Not many people will know this, but you’re also a Harley Street qualified Semi-Permanent Makeup Specialist – a far cry from musical theatre! What got you into that?

JH: Well, I think when you get older, especially in musical theatre, you realise you can’t necessarily rely on there being the roles for you. Firstly, if they are available, and also that you want to play. For instance, I haven’t toured for a long time because I like being at home, it has to be something I really want to do to take me away. About four years ago I decided I wanted to retrain in something that was really interesting and creative that I could do from home. I actually have my own clinic, which I am endeavoring to keep running while I’m on tour. It’s interesting, it’s rewarding and the before-and-after experience makes me feel good.