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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music Sings Once More at Paper Mill

The Sound of Music
Chelsea Morgan Stock, Gracie Beardsley, Elena Shaddow, Hunter A. Kovacs, Sean McManusm Greta Clark, Maya Fortgang, and Amanda Harris
For this joyous holiday season, the Paper Mill Playhouse is offering a well-cast, solidly performed revival of the ever popular Rodgers and Hammerstein classic musical The Sound of Music. Surely and deservedly, it will be right up there with "warm woolen mittens" as one of the favorite things of New Jersey theatergoers and their families from now through to the New Year.

Not as saccharine as it is regarded to be by some naysayers, this fictionalized American musical celebrates the refusal of Austrian naval captain Baron Georg von Trapp to serve Nazi Germany. It portrays his escape, along with his wife Maria and their seven children, from German-ruled Austria along with their genesis as the von Trapp Family Singers. The book by playwrights Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse strongly espouses standing up for principles of freedom in the face of oppressive dictatorial rulers, and depicts the evil that engulfs those who accept and support such rulers whether because of ideology, venality, or self-protection. The Sound of Music relies on the universal knowledge of the Nazi era that everyone had at the time when it was originally produced. I doubt that today's younger viewers will feel the visceral pain that the display of swastika-bearing flags brought to audiences in 1959.

Elena Shaddow is an adorable Maria without ever resorting to cutesy or tomboyish behaviors to win over her audience. Shaddow's unfussy performance emphasizes accurate, unforced, and lovely vocals, a modest mien, and the projection of deep feeling for Captain von Trapp and his children. Her performance of "Do-Re-Mi" (teaching the von Trapp children how to sing) will put a smile on the face of the most stony hearted viewers.

Ben Davis plays the role of Captain von Trapp less stiffly than previous interpreters. His is an effective interpretation as it makes for an unusually human Georg without denaturing his pain or the cold rigidity of his behavior. He smoothly and seamlessly integrates his lyrics with his dialogue. The lovely "Edelweiss" (the last lyric written by Oscar Hammerstein) caps his outstanding musical performance.

Suzanne Ishee shines as the Mother Abbess. Most importantly, Ishee throws caution to the wind to deliver a full throated, all stops out operatic "Climb Every Mountain." She sings all the high notes that Margery McKay (dubbing for Peggy Wood) sang in the film version. Amazingly, Ishee is doing this on stage for eight performances a week. She also duets on "My Favorite Things" with Elena Shaddow and sings the beautiful, operatic "Alleluia" during "The Wedding Processional."

Edward Hibbert is a drolly entertaining Max Detweiler. Donna English is reprising the role of Fraulein Schrader which she played when The Sound of Music was presented at Paper Mill in 2003. Both dramatically and vocally, English continues to be ideal for this role. English and Hibbert join delightfully with Ben Davis to deliver the witty "How Can Love Survive" and the socially and politically pointed yet delightful "No Way to Stop It." Neither of these essential songs are anywhere to be found in the film version.

Supplementing the superlative Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein score are the two pleasant songs that composer Rodgers wrote for the film version ("I Have Confidence" and "Something Good") after Hammerstein's passing. They have become de rigueur for stage productions. The latter has replaced "An Ordinary Couple," which is a rather mild variation on the Kern-Hammerstein treasure "The Folks Who Live on the Hill."

Chelsea Morgan Stock fulfills all the requirements of the role of Liesl, the oldest von Trapp child. However, Anthony Federov as her suitor Rolf is so soft and sweet early on in the proceedings that his transition to would-be Führer is not convincing. The talented youngsters playing the six other von Trapp children are cute and charming, but never excessively so.

Jeannie Shubitz stands out as Sister Margaretta. Shubitz, Mary Stout (Sister Berthe), Allison Blackwell (Sister Sophia) and Suzanne Ishee deliver a most effective rendition of the delightfully chatty "(How Do You Solve a Problem Like) Maria". Reliable veterans Joy Franz as housekeeper Frau Schmidt as she was in 2003 and Robert DuSold as the butler Franz add ballast to the production.

Happily back at the helm and in fine fettle is director-choreographer James Brennan who successfully directed the 2003 production. James Fouchard has provided spare sets framed by large cathedral-like rounded arches. There is a terrific cast of more than thirty performers on stage and an accomplished 17-piece orchestra in the pit conducted by Tom Helm.

The Sound of Music is an almost three hour long adult Broadway musical that is appropriate and edifying for the entire family. However, it is a long and potentially difficult sit for younger children. It would likely facilitate the enjoyment of younger children if they would be able to attend matinee performances. Having noted that, let me hasten to add that the Paper Mill is offering a holiday season treat to both adult and family audiences with its rousingly performed production of The Sound of Music

The Sound of Music continues performances (Evenings: Wednesday - Sunday 7 PM/ Matinees: Thursday, Saturday and Sunday) through December 30, 2012, at the Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ 07041. Box Office: 973-376-4343; online: www.papermill.org.

The Sound of Music - Music by Richard Rodgers; Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II; Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse; directed and choreographed by James Brennan

Cast (in order of appearance): Elena Shaddow (Maria); Suzanne Ishee (Mother Abbess); Mary Stout (Sister Berthe); Jeannie Shubitz (Sister Margaretta); Allison Blackwell (Sister Sophia); Robert DuSold (Franz); Ben Davis (Captain von Trapp); Joy Franz (Frau Schmidt); Chelsea Morgan Stock (Liesl); Sean McManus (Friedrich); Amanda Harris (Louisa); Hunter A. Kovacs (Kurt); Maya Fortgang (Brigitta); Gracie Beardsley (Marta); Greta Clark (Gretl); Anthony Federov (Rolf); Donna English (Elsa Schraeder); Edward Hibbert (Max); Osborn Focht (Herr Zeller); Dennis Holland (Baron Elberfeld); Nadine Zahr (Baroness Elberfeld); Jenavene Hester (Postulant); Christopher Carl (Admiral von Schreiber)
Additional Ensemble: Ashley Kate Adams, Duke Anderson, Christine Cornell, Patrick David, Maggie Finnegan, Kera Halbersleben, Norah Long, Robin Lounsbery, Adam Soniak, Chris Stevens, Sally Ann Swarm


Photo: T. Charles Erickson


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- Bob Rendell



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