From the Burnley Express Archive: Standing room only for popular musical

The headline which accompanied this image in the Burnley Express 50 years ago, was “It’s standing room only for Light Opera Fans as the Sound of Music comes to town”.

Tuesday, 20th October 2020, 3:45 pm

Performances were held at the Empire Theatre, in St James’s Street, and the report appeared in the Express following the opening of the show, on Monday, October 26th, 1970. Of course, the article did not appear until the following Saturday.

The photograph is of the scene in which the Von Trapp children are performing at the Ball. It is a pity that the image does not show us more of the theatre as it was in 1970 but you can see that it appears to be in very good condition.

The stage does not look as big as I recall it and there is a fascinating glimpse of the pit in which the orchestra performed. No musician can be seen but a number of music stands are visible, pages of music open.

The children performing at the Von Trapp ball inside the Empire Theatre, Burnley.

For those of you who don’t know, the “Sound of Music” was performed by the Burnley Light Opera Society, one of the most successful music societies the town has ever known. It was founded in 1934 by Captain Thomas Henry Gladstone Grey MC, a director of John Grey Ltd, the cotton manufacturers, of the Livingstone and Cameron Mills in Burnley, and the Rt Rev. Edgar Priestly Swain, the Bishop of Burnley.

Every year since then, 86 in all, the Light Opera has performed at least one show, and sometimes two. There were exceptions in the Second World War but almost all the great shows in Light Opera have been performed by them.

This show, according to the Burnley Express, had almost been a disaster. The scenery had not arrived by the Sunday before the show was about to open. Fortunately, it arrived, at about 1-30am on the Monday morning, from the Palace Theatre in Manchester. The final production had finished, in Manchester, by 10pm on the Saturday, and the staff worked through the night, stopped for breakfast, and then worked through the morning to complete the preparations for the show.

“The musical”, said the Burnley Express, “has not only proved popular with the public, there were 128 applications for the roles of the six Von Trapp children, and auditions to choose the parts were keenly contested. On the final night every seat had been taken and there was only very limited standing accommodation.”

The Burnley show was performed five years after the award-winning film was made, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. The first performance, on Broadway in 1959, had starred Mary Martin and the show appeared at the Palace Theatre, in London, in 1961.