There are times when amateur dramatics can really surprise you. Once a year DAOS stages a musical at The Grove and it has become something of an event for the people in Central Beds.
The Dunstable Amateur Operatic Society (as was) gather up the very best talent from their own and other am-dram groups and hold open auditions which produce the cream of the area’s singers and actors for the productions.
This year a cuckoo flew into their nest after emigrating from London and she’s unlikely to lose her place as leading lady anytime in the future.
Alana McKenna is wasted on the amateur stage. She should be in West End musicals. She should have her name in lights and be feted by the likes of Lloyd Webber. She opens her mouth to sing and the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention. Goosebumps appear all over.
Am I exaggerating? Barbara Morton may think so but then she has won her own plaudits. The pair of them stole the show when DAOS staged four amazing performances of The Sound of Music at the venue.
I watched the final performance on Saturday night and the applause spoke for itself. It was a polished performance, marred only by a few minor sound problems, with a cast seemingly of hundreds (including a winner of Ch4’s Come Dine With Me), a troop of lovable moppets as the adorable von Trapp children and two quite outstanding leading ladies.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s famous musical, made into an unforgettable film in 1965, is set in Austria in the run up to the Second World War. Widowed naval captain Georg von Trapp has shunned his seven children, off-loading them onto a succession of governesses and a life of rigorous austerity while he struggles to come to terms with his wife’s death.
The latest to take her place is Maria, a free-spirited novice nun, who has been sent by the Mother Abbess on a temporary transfer.
There is, woven between the inevitable halting love story between Maria and the captain, Germany’s invasion of Austria and the rise of the Third Reich. When the captain is called to serve he plots to escape the country with his family.
Julie Andrews won everyone’ s heart in the film thanks to one of the most memorable scores ever written and helped by the cuteness of her young charges. Nothing changes.
Barbara is a DAOS veteran of more than 30 years standing and she brought all her experience to bear to play the Mother Abbess with authority and confidence. Her powerful rendition of Climb Every Mountain brought the first Act to a rousing close and overwhelmed some members of the audience who were swept up in the passion of her singing. She ended the show leading the company in an unforgettable finale.
Alana’s Maria was pitch-perfect in the singing department. She hurried a few of her early lines but soon settled into the story and produced an electrifying performance as the feisty nun. I’ve never heard singing so good in an amateur show. It was breath-taking.
There was excellent support from Susan Young, Simon Rollings, Chris Lane and Cameron Hay (but someone please give the boy a meatier role - he has romantic leading man written all over him).
And special mention must be made of the von Trapp children – Amy Lane (Liesl), Nathan Marshall (Friedrich), Ellie Reay (Louisa), Alex Wheeler (Kurt), Emily Owen (Marta), Megan Wagstaff as Brigitta and especially little Freya Baldock as Gretl.
Freya was adorable as the youngest and hearts melted when she was briefly overcome with emotion. She held her own among the children and delivered her lines like a pro. She also has a superbly mature singing voice in one so small (definitely a little Annie in there).
The singing by the nuns made spectacular bookends to a wonderful show. Definitely one of my favourite things to be produced by this talented company.