By Victoria L. Dammer

The Paper Mill Playhouse was alive with Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s musical The Sound of Music on December 7, entertaining a sold-out crowd mesmerized by the singing, dancing, and stage design of this timeless love story.

The Sound of Music is the infamous story of the von Trapp family singers, forced to leave their homeland during the Nazi invasion of Austria. The musical is based on the life of Maria Ranier (Ashley Blanchet), a somewhat misfit cloistered nun at the Nunberg Abbey in Salzburg, whom Mother Abbess (Caitlin Burke) sends to the von Trapp household to become the governess of seven children.

The opening song, Preludium, is sung by the nuns in the abbey. The title song, The Sound of Music, followed this. Set in the sweeping backdrop of the mountainside near the abbey, Maria sang the song, which immediately brought back memories of Julie Andrews in the famous film version released in 1965. From this point on, the entire production deeply ensconced the audience.

Theatergoers are familiar with Rodgers and Hammerstein hit tunes, such as the enduring and comical tune Maria, sung by Sisters Berthe (Madeleine Doherty), Sophia (Ariana Valdes), Margaretta (Mary Illes), and Mother Abbess. In addition, the beloved My Favorite Things, sung by Maria and Mother Abbess, has lyrics most of us know by heart.

Who doesn’t remember the song Do-Re-Mi, sung when Maria arrives at the von Trapp house and meets the children for the first time? Based on the solfege scale, most of the audience was singing along to the words.

One of the corniest songs in the play, but one that aroused the most pleasure, was The Lonely Goatherd, sung by Maria and the children in her bedroom during an intense thunderstorm. The ensuing camaraderie cemented the relationship between the governess and the children through the comical words of the song.

If you could listen to just one song from the entire production, Burke’s rendition of Climb Ev’ry Mountain reverberated throughout the theater and rocked your emotional core with the depth of her voice. The crescendo of her vocal talent penetrated each soul in attendance. What a commanding voice; it was a show-stopping performance, rewarded by thunderous applause.

The second half of the play takes on the sad historical reason the von Trapp family fled Austria, but also presents the magical love affair that began between Maria and Baron von Trapp (Graham Rowat) that endured for decades, and the two marry in a heavenly ceremony at the abbey’s chapel.

Entrapped by the idealism of the Third Reich, the conflict between adolescent loves Liesl von Trapp (Analise Scarpaci) and Rolf Gruber (Andrew Alstat) separates the two. The song Sixteen Going on Seventeen, sung in the first half as a flirty tune between the two, takes on a different tone when Maria and Liesl sing it. Maria softens Liesl’s aching heart now that Rolf has chosen duty over love, and the song promises hope for future romance.

The von Trapp family sing in a concert that is a rouse for their eventual escape from Austria, but Rowat’s deeply emotional version of Edelweiss brought tears to those in attendance. It was a heart-wrenching melody for those who can recall the turmoil evoked by the song’s words. Years after The Sound of Music was written, the recurrence of Climb Ev’ry Mountain as the finale praises a simple dream that inspires love decade after decade to audiences old and new.

The Sound of Music, starring Ashley Blanchet, Caitlin Burke, Madeleine Doherty, Mary Illes, Ariana Valdes, Graham Rowat, Paul Slade Smith, Stacia Fernandez, Analise Scarpaci, Coleman Simmons, Jacey Sink, Cody Braverman, Tara Rajan, Austin Elle Fisher, Charlotte Sydney Harrington, Andew Alstat, Emily Borromeo, Gavin Lee, Christopher Gurr, Eric Michael Gillett, Kayleen Seidl and Mark Banik.

Music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II; book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse; original scenic design by James Fouchard; scenic coordination and additional design by Kelly James Tighe; original costume design by Catherine Zuber; costume design by Leon Dobkowski; lighting design by Charlie Morrison; sound design by Sun Hee Kil; hair and wig design by Jimmy Goode; casting by Nora Brennan Castings, CSA; production stage management by Gary Mickelson; music director and conductor Meghann Zervoulis Bate; choreography by Kenny Ingram; directed by Mark S. Hoebee.

The Paper Mill Playhouse, recipient of the  2016 Regional Theater Tony Award, is located at 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn NJ. Tickets are available at box office 973-376-4343 or Paper Mill Playhouse Shows & Official Tickets: What’s Up Next.

Now playing through January 1, 2023. Running time is approximately 180 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.