SINGAPORE – SJI International student Gabrielle Tay has been a huge fan of The Sound Of Music musical since she was in kindergarten.
The Singaporean, who turns 15 on Nov 24, was among almost 400 hopefuls who auditioned in June to be part of the Singapore cast of children in the upcoming beloved production about the Austrian von Trapp family and its governess Maria, which was adapted into the Oscar-winning 1965 film of the same name.
Last staged in Singapore in 2017, the latest production opens at the Sands Theatre on Nov 22 and runs till Dec 18.
Eighteen youngsters were eventually selected, and subsequently divided into three groups of six, with each group taking turns to play the six younger von Trapp siblings. The oldest, Liesl, is played by American actress Lauren O’Brien.
Gabrielle, who has a background in ballet, jazz and K-pop dance, managed to nab the role of Louisa, the third-oldest child.
She recalled: “I have been to auditions before, but none were on a scale like this. There were hundreds of parents and children, and it was nerve-racking.
“When my name got called in the final round, I was completely numb and emotionless for a few seconds. Then it sunk in and I started crying happy tears. I was really not expecting to be selected out of so many people for an opportunity like this.”
Her dentist mother and banker father both support her being part of the production.
The Straits Times attended one of the rehearsals on Thursday, during which the kids sang, danced, harmonised and acted out scenes from the iconic show, such as when their father, Captain von Trapp (Trevor Martin), summons them with a boatswain’s whistle, and when Maria (Jill-Christine Wiley) teaches them to sing Do-Re-Mi, one of the show’s famous numbers.
Another Singaporean, Maya Sharma, plays Gretl, the youngest of the von Trapp brood. The Primary 2 pupil at River Valley Primary School turns eight on Dec 8 and is also the youngest member of the cast.
She said: “My parents tell me I am cute like Gretl, but cheekier. I think my character is the cutest of them all.”
Asked how she overcomes her nerves on stage, Maya replied: “My mother told me to imagine that the audience members are all cabbages. Cabbages don’t talk.”
An only child, whose parents are office workers, she hopes her experience with the musical will allow her to learn, have fun and make as many friends as possible.
“Everyone tells me I am very fortunate to get such an incredible opportunity so early in life, so I want to make the most of it.”
For Australian International School student Isabella Fairhall, 12, who plays Brigitta, the fifth-oldest von Trapp child, it was a case of second chances.
The Australian had auditioned for the role of Gretl in 2017, when she was six, but failed to land the part then.
“I felt very upset. At the time, I claimed I would never audition for anything ever again. But here I am in 2022, trying and succeeding. If I had not tried again, I would have missed out on this awesome opportunity, so I guess it is a great example of why you should never give up.”
Mr Matt Lenz, the production’s tour director, said the children bring a sense of unbridled enthusiasm to the show.
The American, who is in his 50s, said: “As adults, we can get caught up in the work. So when we get too serious, they remind us that we are doing a musical, something fun and enjoyable. They bring a special ingredient to the room, and this lifts the whole process.”
But there are also challenges when working with young performers. These include teaching them how to be part of a team and be respectful of others, as well as to get the details right.
Mr Lenz said: “At this level, the work is very detailed, so it can take some time to get everything precise. It is a lot of work, but it pays off in the sense of fulfilment and satisfaction we get when everything comes together.”
American actor Martin, 34, said his fatherly character is stern towards the kids for most of the show, but once he is off-stage, he treats them as colleagues.
He said: “I break away from the persona and try to bond with them, since we are on the same team. I have to get them to trust me, especially because I have to lift the littlest one during the show.”
To establish rapport, he chats with them between rehearsals, or when they are reading or watching TikTok videos.
“Once, one of the boys who plays (fourth-oldest von Trapp child) Kurt saw me playing a silly game on my mobile phone. He also plays this game, so we had a laugh about it.”