The new production of The Sound of Music at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse is such an utter delight, you shouldn’t be wasting time reading this review, you should be ordering tickets right now (http://www.papermill.org). I’ve seen countless productions at Paper Mill since the 1970’s. This production, running through January 1st, is one of the most satisfying productions I’ve ever seen at that theater—which is saying plenty. Director Mark S. Hoebee tells the familiar story—rich with honest sentiment–clearly and well. The show, with more than 30 actors on stage and 16 musicians in the pit, is handsomely produced.
The whole thing hangs together very well. This musical (with a score by Rodgers & Hammerstein and a libretto by Lindsay & Crouse) is timeless. I’m not going to recount the plot here because most everyone is familiar with The Sound of Music. (The film version, starring Julie Andrews, is one of the most popular of all film musicals.) I’ve seen so many stage productions of this show over the years—on Broadway, at Paper Mill, at Westchester Broadway, at Stage Door Manor, and elsewhere—I wasn’t sure I wanted to see it still again. But I’m very glad I went.
Hoebee has found an absolutely irresistible actress to star in this production. Her name is Ashley Blanchet. She may not yet be a “name.” But I’ve never enjoyed anyone more on stage as “Maria” (and I’ve seen some very good performers in that role). Her warm, supple soprano is a treat to listen to throughout. And there is such life and vitality and kindness and ease in her performance, I relished every moment. She’s just a joy to watch, whether she’s singing well-known numbers from the original Broadway production, like “Do-Re-Mi” and “The Sound of Music,” or two numbers written expressly for the film adaptation that are wisely included in this production, “I Have Confidence” and “Something Good.”
Graham Rowat—while a bit younger and less stern than ideal for the role of Captain Georg von Trapp—has good chemistry with Ashley Blanchet. And he’s believable throughout, whether falling in love in Maria or taking an admirably principled stand against the Nazis while some around him are more opportunistic. I liked his Captain von Trapp.
The seven von Trapp kids in this production are appropriately adorable—and come across as natural and unspoiled. (Finding seven child actors for a stage production who are that relaxed, unaffected, and likeable is far from easy.) I think Analise Scarpaci (who’s worked with me as a recording artist, I must note, and has long impressed me) is a real asset as Liesl, the 16-year-old von Trapp daughter. I love that seamless voice of hers, and it keeps getting better. She’s already a veteran of three Broadway musicals (A Christmas Story, Matilda, Mrs. Doubtfire). But she’s never had in those musicals a song that suits her so well—or shows off her strengths so perfectly—as “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.”
This beautifully staged, family-friendly, color-blind production of The Sound of Music is rewarding on many levels. It’s an ensemble success. The material is strong. And Hoebee deserves a lot of credit for presenting it so well. Go, if you can!
The Sound of Music (December 2202 – January 1, 2023)
Paper Mill Playhouse, Milburn, New Jersey
For tickets, visit http://www.my.papermill.org
Running time: two hours including one intermission