Why The Sound of Music will be Chichester Festival Theatre's summer centrepiece

In a sense, The Sound of Music was the starting point for this year’s Chichester Festival Theatre summer line-up.
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Gina Beck will be our Maria in the piece which offers music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and will be directed by Adam Penford in the main-house from July 10-September 3.

Daniel Evans, whose final year this will be as artistic director in Chichester, said: “The musical has become the cornerstone in our season and not just because it brings in coachloads of people from near and far. Financially speaking it is the economic spine of the season because it will always enable us to commission new work elsewhere in the season on the back of it and to take some risks because of it.

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"And I do think the musical has become more and more important with the years. But I think it is also important because it is a collective uplifting of the spirit, this great positive experience in the middle of the summer when people come to Chichester when the city is blooming and they can sit in the park and they can listen to music in the park and they can make a real day out at the show. It is not just important to the Festival Theatre. It is important to our audiences and it is really important to the city too.”

Daniel Evans, Artistic Director of Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo Seamus RyanDaniel Evans, Artistic Director of Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo Seamus Ryan
Daniel Evans, Artistic Director of Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo Seamus Ryan

Opening the summer season though in the main house will be Lia Williams and Joshua James in The Vortex, by Noël Coward, directed by Daniel Raggett, April 28-May 20. It’s the roaring 20s and a world in flux. The magnetic Florence Lancaster draws people to her like moths to a flame. But when her son Nicky arrives home from Paris with an unexpected fiancée and a secret, it sets off a chain of events which threatens to pull them all into a maelstrom.

“Chichester has a longstanding relationship with Coward and it is actually 50 years since he died. Coward is known for his wit and his comedy and all of that is in this play but what is really interesting is that it is also about a relationship between a mother and her son, part of the great lineage of plays about mother and son relationships from Hamlet to Ghosts and The Seagull to The Vortex.

“But what is lovely for us here is that we have got mother and son in real life playing mother and son. Of course it is all about acting but knowing that they are mother and son will give a huge insight into that whole relationship on stage. It will be impossible for us as an audience not to be able to feel the depths of that relationship between them and what they bring to it from their own relationship. Plus of course they are both brilliant actors.”

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Next up in the main-house will be Assassins, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by John Weidman, directed by Polly Findlay, June 3-24, a piece offering a surreal carnival centred on a group of people who have one thing in common: they want to assassinate the President of the United States. Some succeed, some fail. But there’s a prize for them all: a place in the history books.

As Daniel says, this was one of the productions which were due to have taken place in the cancelled pandemic summer of 2020. Had it taken place then, then Sondheim would still have been alive. He knew that the production was scheduled for Chichester.

“There are not many people that write the words and the music. Stephen was a lyricist and started out as a lyricist and then he became a composer as well in his own right so what you get is the same brain creating the words and the melodies and the range of the music in this particular musical is vast.

"The musical range spans all the periods that these people came from. It gives a real slice of 20th century Americana and it is one of the last bastions of the 2020 season that never happened because of Covid.”

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Priority booking for Friends of Chichester Festival Theatre opens: February 25 (online and booking forms only); February 28 (phone and in person). Booking for groups and schools opens: March 2. General booking opens: March 4 (online only); March 7 (phone and in person). cft.org.uk; 01243 781312; tickets from £10.