With the holiday season upon us, good wholesome family entertainment plays well for live theater. The Paper Mill Playhouse has gone all out this year to provide this in a big way as they present “The Sound of Music.” Recognized as one of the most beloved and inspirational stories of all time, it will be playing between now and the end of the year. The show is not about Christmas or winter holidays, but it has become a favorite for the holiday season because of the warm, loving tale of family and overcoming adversity that it tells. The musical score was Rodgers and Hammerstein's final triumphant collaboration. It opened on Broadway back in 1958 starring Mary Martin. Based on the tale of the escape of the von Trapp family from Nazi occupied Austria, it later became a major motion picture starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer in 1965. The movie remains a popular holiday favorite played on television.
The production is staged with scenery that works well in creating the atmosphere of the majestic hills and mountains so well identified in the movie version. But the set is cleverly landscaped to provide settings for the von Trapp Austrian home as well as the nun’s Abbey where lead character Maria begins her journey to the life she eventually led with the family. A word of warning for those most familiar with the movie version of this show: some of the songs are in different places in the show and there are two songs not heard in the movie. But it all works well and if you love the movie, you will be smiling and singing along (quietly) to those oh familiar tunes!
The Paper Mill’s production of “The Sound of Music” is directed and choreographed by James Brennan with Musical Direction by Tom Helm. An outstanding cast has been assembled for this production lead by Elena Shaddow as Maria and Ben Davis as Captain von Trapp. As she unwillingly leaves to become a governess for the von Trapp children, Maria take on a strength that allows her to fall in love with Captain von Trapp and marry him in a wonderfully staged scene in the show. The pairing of these two actors works very well. Ms. Shaddow has a strong, beautiful voice that can reach the high notes so needed in songs like “Do, Re, Me.” Mr. Davis’ defiance towards the Nazi take-over has the right combination needed to understand why he and his family fled their beautiful homeland.
Edward Hibbert plays Max Detweiler. Fans of the comedy show “Frazier” will remember Mr. Hibbert who played the food critic, Gil Chesterton. His distinctive delivery style of dialog allows the audience to have a few laughs from him at times as well as respect the actions he takes for the von Trapp family at the end. Donna English plays Elsa Schraeder, the pre-Maria love interest of Captain von Trapp. She plays the part with a secure feeling that she has landed her next husband. However, her recognition of the reality unfolding in her midst, both romantically and politically, sound a deep warning note of the sadness that is about to come with the Nazi takeover. The Elsa character handles the situation with Maria quite differently from the movie format and it works well in this setting.
A remarkable job was done in casting the von Trapp children. Not only did they cast children who can sing, dance, and act very well did they seemed to be very comfortable on stage. Casting includes Gracie Beardsley, Jonathan Charette, Greta Clark, Maya Fortgang, Amanda Harris, Hunter A. Kovacs, Anna McCarthy, and Sean McManus. Chelsea Morgan Stock plays Liesl who helps the audience understand how “16 Going on 17” is in the middle of nowhere in the growing up process. Her love interest, Rolf, is well played by former American Idol finalist Anthony Fedorov. He makes that transition from a love struck telegram delivery boy to a Nazi party member easily as he leaves behind a very sad young lady.
One of the highlights of the show is the singing from the nuns’ choir. The blending of the voices and harmonies on their songs provide beautiful sounds throughout the show. Suzanne Ishee plays the Mother Abbess whose rendition of “Climb Every Mountain” will give us theater goers who enjoy a bit of a cry a need to pull out that tissue.
"The Sound of Music" will run from November 23 to December 30, 2012 and it will be performed eight times a week, Wednesday through Sunday. Please visit the Paper Mill Playhouse website or call the box office (973.376.4343) for special holiday schedules.
Special Reminder: New and gently used coats can be brought during the run of the show now through December 30th. The donated winter coats benefit at-risk men, women, children, and infants in our area. Last season Paper Mill Playhouse patrons contributed over 400 coats to this worthy cause. Coats can be dropped off in the baskets inside the theater’s lobby.