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"Watch Maria,” yells choreographer Jonny Bowles. The pianist creates a rumble of thunder with a crashing chord and a tiny person runs into Maria’s “room”, scared of the noise.
When director Frank Thompson questions the child about whether she is scared of thunder in reality because she sounds suspiciously like a mosquito rather than a crying child, Bethany Dickson (pictured) as Maria winks at the little girl, affirming that she did seem more insect than child.
Everyone returns to their places and the scene starts again.
Like her stage nanny character, Dickson helps the children through the scene, placing a bolster in the correct place for one, nudging another on to the correct mark.
Three teams of children are taking turns to get through The Lonely Goatherd song – you know the song Maria sings to get the children over the fright of lightning and thunder – and Dickson generates the same level of enthusiasm for each team, singing the song and hitting the mark every time the director runs them through it (hours later photo- grapher Willem Law was still humming The Lonely Goatherd as he moved around the Cape Argus newsroom).
During a subsequent interview Dickson points out that working with children is old hat for her since she taught at a primary school for two years, between working on musicals around Joburg and Cape Town.
She got her professional start in the ensemble of High School Musical in 2008 before getting a chance to travel as far as New Zealand and Hong Kong as Sandy in Grease.
Recently she was the Betty Schaefer character in Sunset Boulevard and now she comes full circle to the Maria character.
One of the first roles she ever played was Louisa to her mother’s Maria in The Sound of Music, 12 years ago.
So, when the now 26-year-old got this role, one of the first people she called (after bursting into tears in a furniture store where she got the phone call) was her mother, Julie Dickson, who also promptly burst out crying.
It’s not that the two are particularly teary-eyed women; it was just a bonding moment for both – her mother’s work on stage has had a significant influence on Bethany’s choice of career.
Some of Dickson’s earliest memories are of watching her mother perform on stage and she pretends to roll her eyes when she describes how her parents “met in a band”, but she actually likes telling that story.
The Maria role is quite a switch from the Betty role.
While the Sunset Boulevard cast were great off stage, on stage her character was the only non-bitchy, dark role.
Of course, The Sound of Music is one of the best natured of all musicals. It is also one of the most iconic, with the Julie Andrews film role setting in stone for many people how the character is supposed to act.
“Every Maria is different and I’m not trying to play Julie Andrews, I’m playing Maria.
“Because of how iconic the roles are, there is some sort of pressure… but I’m trying to make it my own,” she said.
Talking it over with her mom has helped, but ultimately it is working with Thompson that is going to give her the confidence to move forward.
Speaking of iconic roles, the one thing Dickson really wants to do if she continues performing in musicals, is take part in a production of Les Miserables.
It doesn’t really matter which role (“I’d be the barricade if they’d let me”) as long as she gets to be part of the show.
Right now though, singing “The hills are alive with the sound of music” is a dream come true, too.
• The Sound of Music, Presented by Pieter Toerien, David Ian and The Really Useful Group, at the Artscape Opera House, February 19 to March 29. Tickets: R125 to R425 from Computicket.