Verity solves a problem like Maria
PUBLISHED: 09:15 09 August 2011
How do you solve a problem like Maria? By casting Verity Rushworth. She first appeared in the Sound of Music playing one of the von Trapp children – now she’s following in Julie Andrews’ footsteps in the famous role. She shares a few of her favourite things with EMMA LEE.
For an actress, Maria in the Sound of Music is one of the most coveted roles there is. So there’s no hyperbole when Verity Rushworth describes playing her as her “dream job”.
The former Emmerdale actress has been starring as the singing nun in a touring production of the show since January – to rave reviews.
“It’s amazing,” the cheery northerner says with such enthusiasm that you wonder if she has to pinch herself when she wakes up every morning to check she hasn’t imagined it.
“I grew up watching the film and I wanted to be in musical theatre, so it’s amazing to be in such a massive role so soon,” she says. The musical, which begins a two-week run at Norwich Theatre Royal on Tuesday, tells the story of novice nun Maria, who is sent from an Austrian convert to be a governess for the seven children of widower Captain von Trapp – Liesel, Louisa, Friedrich, Kurt, Brigitta, Marta and Gretl.
Retired from the navy, he rules his house with military precision – and Maria’s arrival turns their lives upside down. First she wins the hearts of the children, then the heart of the Captain.
The pair marry, then the entire family is forced to flee the Anschluss – the annexation of Austria by the Nazis – by fleeing on foot over the mountains to Switzerland.
Inspired by a true story, it’s based on the real Maria von Trapp’s 1949 memoir: The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.
In 1956 and 1958 two films about the family were made: The Trapp Family and the Trapp Family in America.
They were seen by the stage director Vincent J Donehue, who thought that his friend, actress Mary Martin, would be perfect for it. It’s said that it was initially conceived as a non-musical play featuring songs from the Trapp Family’s repertoire.
However the project changed course and the legendary Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II provided a score of all-new songs, many that would go on to be standards, and the rest is history.
The show opened on Broadway in 1959 and in London a couple of years later. Then, in 1965, the Sound of Music arrived on the big screen filmed on location in Salzburg starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. It won five Oscars and is enduringly popular today.
There’s the Sing-a-long-a Sound of Music phenomenon, where devotees attend screenings of the film, dressed as everything from girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes, to brown paper packages tied up with string, to goats.
And the musical itself has had several revivals on both sides of the Atlantic – most recently by Andrew Lloyd Webber in 2006, starring Connie Fisher in the lead role, chosen through the TV talent search, How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?
Of course the most famous Maria is Julie Andrews. What was it like for Verity stepping in to her shoes?
“Oh, she’s a legend,” Verity says. “Everyone thinks of her when they think of the Sound of Music, so there’s a pressure to live up to it and make it your own and enjoy it. But so far so good.”
Verity has won standing ovations for her performances – but it’s not the first time she’s been in the Sound of Music.
“Yes, I did a production when I was nine in Leeds and I played Brigitta, so it’s nice to be coming back as Maria,” she says.
It’s a massive production – the team is made up of a cast of 30, 21 child actors, 14 musicians and 24 touring staff.
Robin of Sherwood and Dynasty star Michael Praed has recently rejoined the cast, taking over from Jason Donovan as Captain von Trapp.
And Verity says that being on the road the team has become like a family off stage as well.
“Everyone’s really lovely – it’s like a little touring family,” she says. “Because we’re away from home and you don’t know anyone you do socialise together as a company and make friends, more than you would in the West End. You’re living together as well a lot of the time,” she says.
When she’s not working, Verity is a bit of a bookworm. “And I love curling up and watching movies,” she says.
There are so many famous songs in the Sound of Music – from the title song, to My Favourite Things, I Have Confidence, Edelweiss, The Lonely Goatherd, Climb Ev’ry Mountain... does Verity have a favourite number to perform in the show?
“I think it’s probably Do Re Mi. It’s an absolute classic – all the kids are there, it’s a lovely fun one to do,” she says.
Verity performs to packed houses every night – does she ever get stage fright? And if she does, how does she deal with it?
“I only ever get nervous if there’s somebody in watching I know and I want to make sure that they enjoy it and that they have a really good time,” she says. “Everybody gets nervous at times – that’s natural. I get into the character as much as possible and do lots of deep breathing – that’s my little tip,” she says.
It will be Verity’s first trip to Norwich – and she says that she’s looking forward to it as the city’s reputation proceeds it.
“ I’ve never been to Norwich ever – I’ve heard it’s beautiful, and there’s going to be trips to the seaside. Hopefully it’ll be nice weather – fingers crossed. It’s going to be my birthday while I’m there, so I’ll have a trip out with the girls at some point,” she says.
From Leeds, Verity has been acting since the tender age of three – she’s 25 going on 26 now. Trained at the city’s SLP College, she began her career in pantomime at the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford playing the part of a sunbeam.
From there she then went on to play Tom the Cat in Dick Whittington, Brigitta in The Sound of Music and Lucy Keen in Heartbeat before winning the role of Donna Windsor in Emmerdale when she was just 12.
What was it that made her want to perform? “I went to see Cats when I was about five or six and they came out into the audience and I was mesmerised by them. Every year on my birthday my mum would take me to see a show in London,” she says.
Does Verity have a favourite musical?
“That’s a really hard one,” she says, pausing to ponder. “It’s probably something like Les Miserables – it’s so good, I love it. It’s so moving – you get so emotional.”
Verity’s first job after leaving Emmerdale was in the hit show Hairspray, playing the part of Penny Pingleton.
After watching all those West End shows, what was it like hearing that she was going to be performing there?
“I cried when I found out,” Verity says. “I’d made the decision to leave Emmerdale and my agent started sending me for auditions. I couldn’t believe it when they said I’d got the part – it was just unbelievable – it’s really unheard of to walk into a job that quickly. I was in the right place at the right time,” she says modestly – although undoubtedly talent played a big part too.
Emmerdale is one of the most famous shows on TV, but having starred in the programme from such a young age, Verity says that she never really felt any pressure.
“I never really understood what I was getting in to,” she laughs. “I grew up doing it – it would be different if I was going in to it now. It was normal to me – it was my life really – I don’t think I realised how big a deal it was,” she says.
For some youngsters, seeing the Sound of Music in Norwich will be their first experience of live theatre – and her performance may even inspire some of them to follow in Verity’s footsteps. What advice would she give them?
“I think if you’re young it’s good to get your exams completed first to have something to fall back on,” she says. “It’s not glamorous – it’s fickle. If you love it, then go for it – but you have to put the work in. But if you love it, it’s the best feeling you can have.”
Verity already has one of the great roles in theatre on her CV – are there any other parts that she has her eye on? Like many girls, she dreams of being a princess – albeit an unconventional one.
“I really like Funny Girl – I grew up being a massive fan of Barbra Streisand, so I would love to do that. And then you know Shrek? I would love to be Princess Fiona,” she says.
t The Sound of Music is at Norwich Theatre Royal from August 9-20, £35-£6.50, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk