The Sound of Music
The Paper Mill Playhouse sometimes presents Christmas shows during its seasons. A few years ago they presented It’s a Wonderful Life and just last year they performed Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. However, this season we get The Sound of Music, which is directed and choreographed by James Brennan and playing until December 30, for this year’s Christmas show. So, could this musical pass as a holiday classic, other than the fact that the movie version is sometimes played on ABC during the Christmas season?
Well, for one thing, there is a religious theme. Novice Maria Rainer (Elena Shaddow) is training to be a nun and often turns to God for guidance, but it is uncertain if the convent is the place for her. The Mother Abbess (Suzanne Ishee) decides to send her away to become a governess for Captain Georg von Trapp’s (Ben Davis) seven children, whom he treats more like an army than his offspring. Maria reintroduces music into their lives and by doing so charms her way into their hearts, thus encouraging the Captain to change his tune about how he is currently living his life.
This is a very well done piece with a mechanical set, classic memorable songs such as “Edelweiss” and “Climb Every Mountain” and excellent harmonies. It also includes a sub-plot about the Captain’s non-conformity to Nazism. I never really understood the seriousness of the Nazi plot when I was first introduced to this musical as a kid, but this version showcases the urgency of it and helps me understand it a bit better.
Another highlight is that Season 4 “American Idol” alum Anthony Fedorov plays the part of Rolf Gruber, Liesl von Trapp’s (Chelsea Morgan Stock) love interest. Season 6 “American Idol” alum Syesha Mercado played the lead character in Paper Mill Playhouse’s final installment of last year’s season in Once on This Island. It is always fun to see people you remember watching on TV live continuing their careers on a New Jersey stage, the Paper Mill Playhouse no less.
One criticism I have is the odd placement of songs. For example, in the scene where the von Trapp children are afraid of the thunderstorm and seek Maria’s bedroom as refuge, normally they sing “My Favorite Things” to help get their mind off the storm by thinking about things that make them happy. However, in this version, they sing “The Lonely Goatherd” in this scene, which makes no sense because it is out of context. It is odd because in this version, Maria sings “My Favorite Things” with Mother Abbess in one of the first scenes, which never really happened before as far as I remember. As for the “The Lonely Goatherd” song, normally Maria and the kids perform this for Captain von Trapp and his guests using goat marionettes. Goat marionettes are actually sold in the gift shop portion of the playhouse, but yet they are nowhere to be seen in the actual show. There is even a reprise of “The Lonely Goatherd” in the second act and even then they do not incorporate goat marionettes. The scene consists of the von Trapp children playing with their Uncle Max Detweiler (Edward Hibbert). There is a reprise of “My Favorite Things” as well in the second act when the kids are missing Maria and they try to recall the song that she had taught them to make them feel better. But, from the audience’s perspective, we never see her sing this song with them before in the musical to refer back to it, so how would they know it? I was highly disappointed with all of this because I was looking forward to these parts the way I remember them.
I had to look this up to make sure that I was not spoiled by the 1965 film version with Julie Andrews, and it turns out that I am. The set up that I am complaining about is actually the correct set up of the staged version of the musical and the one I recall is the film version. However, I have seen this musical staged years ago, quite possibly at Paper Mill Playhouse, but I do not recall the placement of the songs bugging me like it is now, for I feel like they used the song placements I remember.
All things considered, the placement of songs altered my enjoyment of the show a little bit, but other than the song placement confusion for me, the show is very well executed and heartwarming. It is a very family friendly atmosphere, plenty of children in the audience, the theater donned with Christmas decorations such as wreaths and lights. A nice family theater outing for all to enjoy and make your season bright!
Written by Stefanie Sears