MILLBURN, NJ – What a perfect choice for the holiday season! “The Sound of Music,” directed by James Brennan, has all the uplifting qualities and warmth that makes it a fine antidote to New Jersey’s recovery from Hurricane Sandy.
From the nuns in at Noonberg Abby in Austria to the adorable Von Trapp children, this musical truly has something for everyone. The plot isn’t bad, either, with the Nazis about to take over the country as the family must plan for a quick getaway.
Elena Shaddow plays their governess, Maria, who falls in love with Captain von Trapp. She has the enthusiasm, and the voice, to carry us into the title song and to make her scenes with the children shimmer. Ben Davis is in fine voice as the initially rigid military man, who finds his humanity again through love and music. “Edelweiss,” Oscar Hammerstein’s final lyrics, set to Rodgers waltz-like music, has often been mistaken as Austria’s national anthem.
We have Edward Hibbert as Max Derweiler, bringing a touch of witty repartee to the mix. It’s just the balance we need to keep this story from becoming saccharine. Donna English is Elsa Schraeder, the captain’s initial love interest. Derweiler and Schraeder’s “How Can Love Survive” is a clever contrast to the homespun appeal of so much of the music.
Since the film version with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer has become a perennial favorite, it’s hard to top those scenes of the Swiss Alps. Rock-lie protrusions on the Paper Mill stage convey a sense of that landscape. James Fourchard has also designed an elegant entrance to the von Trapp estate, along with various interiors. The stained glass rose window conveys the interior of the abbey.
The stage version has its own appeal and certainly had a standing ovation the night I saw it. The Von Trapp children were all in fine voice: from the eldest, Chelsea Morgan Stock as Liesel to the youngest, Greta Clark as Gretl. Suzanne Ishee as The Mother Abbess was riveting in the heroic “Climb Every Mountain.”
Costumes by Amanda Seymour and lighting by F. Mitchell Dana struck all the right notes. Music Director Tom Helm conducted the splendid orchestra and sent most of us out humming “the hills are alive” or other lyrics from this enduring play.
Based on a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, “The Sound of Music” was first performed on Broadway with Mary Martin as Maria. It was based on the true story of the von Trapp family.
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