“The Sound of Music” is still solid family entertainment

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Graham Rowat as Captain Georg von Trapp and Ashley Blanchet as Maria Rainer
Graham Rowat as Captain Georg von Trapp and Ashley Blanchet as Maria Rainer in "The Sound of Music" at Paper Mill Playhouse

You can’t go wrong this holiday season at Paper Mill Playhouse

The Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn has mounted a new production of The Sound of Music, the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. While the story by now contains no surprises, this production is solid entertainment for this holiday season. As such, I can recommend it as a delightful treat for families to see together.

Ashley Blanchet as Maria Rainer
Ashley Blanchet as Maria Rainer in “The Sound of Music” at the Paper Mill Playhouse

For the few readers who have never seen The Sound of Music on stage or in the movies, here’s the plot: In 1938, postulant Maria Rainer (Ashley Blanchet) is sent by the Mother Abbess of Nonnberg Abbey (Cáitlín Burke) to serve as a temporary governess to the seven children of Austrian naval captain Georg von Trapp (Graham Rowat). Maria governs the children with music, play, and affection, of all of which von Trapp disapproves. Naturally, Maria and Georg fall in love, which sends Maria scurrying back to the Abbey for refuge.

The Mother Abbess sends her back, telling Maria she must face her fears and that the love of a man and woman is just as sacred as the love of God. The couple marry and are away on their honeymoon just as Nazi Germany annexes Austria — and the new German government “invites” the anti-Nazi Georg to captain a ship in their navy, leading the couple to figure out a way to try and escape their lost motherland.

The cast, under the direction of Paper Mill’s Artistic Director Mark S. Hoebee, is uniformly excellent, although it did take a little time for the show’s intrinsic warmth to make itself known. Unlike some other productions of The Sound of Music I have seen, the attraction between Maria and Georg is palpable, and Blanchet and Rowat have great chemistry.

Comic support is ably provided by Gavin Lee as concert impresario Max Detweiler, trying to find performers for one last Austrian folk music concert, and Emily Borromeo as Baroness Elsa Schraeder, a rich young widow interested in a match with Georg. Christopher Gurr lends a touch of menace as Herr Zeller, the new gauleiter (regional leader) of annexed Austria, a petty tyrant backed by a legion of German storm troopers. Analise Scarpaci and Andrew Alstat ably portray the pangs of young love as Liesl, von Trapp’s eldest daughter, and Rolf, a telegram delivery boy. Finally, Cáitlín Burke’s Mother Abbess is the perfect mixture of solid, no-nonsense advice and playfulness, and her singing voice is heart-stoppingly beautiful.

The cast is more than able to fulfill their musical duties throughout. Standout numbers include the classic title song along with the familiar “My Favorite Things,” “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” “Do-Re-Mi,” and “Climb Every Mountain.” “How Can Love Survive?” is a knockout comic number for Lee and Borromeo, while the children shine in “So Long, Farewell,” and the von Trapp family performs a touching “Edelweiss,” the last song Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II wrote together.

Paper Mill’s design team performs some of their best work in this production. James Fouchard’s original scenic designs are recreated and freshened up by Kelly James Tighe, while Catherine Zuber’s original costumes get the same treatment by Leon Dobkowski. Charlie Morrison’s lighting and Sun Hee Kil’s sound design complement the play perfectly. The orchestra, led by Meghann Zervoulis Bate, is lush and lovely, while Kenny Ingram’s choreography is quite good, especially his recreation of the Austrian folk dance the Ländler.

Casitlin Burke as Mother Abbess and Ensemble in "The Sound of Music."
Casitlin Burke as Mother Abbess and Ensemble in “The Sound of Music” at Paper Mill Playhouse.

All in all, The Sound of Music is an old chestnut of a show, but one that in the Paper Mill Playhouse’s capable hands retains much of its flavor. Its mix of adorable children, singing nuns, the Nazi takeover of Austria, and the discovery of love may seem an improbable, possibly corny, mélange of ideas, but mixed in with the musical genius of Rodgers and Hammerstein it becomes the perfect holiday entertainment — even without any mention of evergreens, Santa, or the Yuletide season.

If you’re looking for a treat for the entire family, you can’t go wrong with seeing The Sound of Music!

The Sound of Music is presented by the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn through January 1, 2023. For more information, or to purchase tickets, go to papermill.org or call 973-376-4343.

Allen Neuner is the theater reviewer at Out in Jersey magazine. Jersey born and raised, Allen went to his first live play in 1957 and has been deliriously in love with live theater ever since. He works in the box office at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick. He has been partnered to music reviewer Bill Realman Stella, with whom he is also deliriously in love, for over 20 years. They live in an over-cluttered house in Somerville.