HISTORICALLY TIMELESS: The cast of The Sound of Music, including Andre Schwartz as Captain von Trapp, centre, and Bethany Dickson as Maria, right.

The Sound of Music

CAST: Bethany Dickson, Andre Schwartz, Taryn Sudding, Carmen Pretorius, Janelle Visagie, James Borthwick

DIRECTOR: Jeremy Sams

VENUE: Montecasino Teatro

UNTIL: June 8

RATING: ****

Suddenly, your child knows the words to The Hills Are Alive. That’s the wonder of teachers and school. Out of the blue, your child is imagining a pretty young nun, with the love of the saints coursing through her heart, spinning over the hills of Salzberg.

In our context, there are few scenes that would be more incongruous. It’s a bit like marketing Christmas here using the atmosphere of snow and dark, wintry villages full of lanterns. But somehow, children accept all of that – and The Sound of Music is, after all, an institution.

Montecasino’s theatre certainly hasn’t suffered for the decision to stage an old favourite. It was packed, from the orchestra pit to the boxes. And small wonder: on the cusp of its 50th birthday, the musical is still as full of life and as entertaining as it ever was.

Even those of us who saw it for the first time years after it was released as a Rodgers & Hammerstein movie, know nearly all the words to most of the songs. And that’s why we’re not surprised teachers keep reigniting them. Who can resist the innocence of My Favourite Things? Who hasn’t sung Doh a Deer to a baby?

My 8-year-old daughter and I sat hand-in-hand in the top rows. We’d discussed the background to the story in the car on the way there and so our heads were already in 1938 as Hitler’s troops readied to march into Austria for the Anschluss. The Sound of Music is a surprisingly good way to get a history lesson going. It’s also essential.

How else could you really understand why Rolf, so patently in love with Captain von Trapp’s eldest daughter Liesl, would turn against the family once he wore the uniform of the Wehrmacht?

But if you don’t understand love, you also won’t understand why the young man then saves the family moments before they’re about to be captured by the Third Reich in the abbey. Love is, after all, the theme of the show. And the love between Maria and the Captain is its key element.

Bethany Dickson gives a lustrous performance as the nun who becomes governess to the seven Trapp children. And Andre Schwartz – who has played the Phantom, Jesus and Joseph in other big music productions – lifts the conductor’s baton with booming finesse.

Others are also strong, especially Janelle Visagie as the circumspect abbess who must help Maria find meaning. But without a solid cast of children, the show wouldn’t work. They are on point, natural and charming. They make us laugh, and get us singing along – in spite of ourselves.

Yet the most enthusiastic applause should go to set designer Robert Jones, who creates an imaginative, bold space as he takes you into those hills and through those tunnels as if they properly existed. Stunning.