The hills of New Jersey are alive with “The Sound of Music.” At the Paper Mill, the familiar strains of Richard Rodgers’ music and the inviting lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II continue to cast their spell in this captivating revival.
The show’s old-fashioned sentiment and cutesy kids deliver a heavy dose of saccharine, but manipulative charm still has a theatrical validity. The show is a remnant from Broadway’s great golden age that still succeeds in warming the heart. Director-choreographer James Brennan has successfully harnessed the springtime spirit of the valiant von Trapp family, who flee persecution with Nazis at their heels.
Amanda Watkins is enchanting as the young Bavarian Maria. Warm and charming, she brings a youthful vitality to the role, much as Laura Benanti did in the 1999 Broadway revival. Robert Cuccioli, Broadway’s original “Jekyll and Hyde,” is a robust baritone who gets precious little opportunity to belt as Captain von Trapp. He sings the “clean and bright” strains of “Edelweiss” with proper subtle caution. But he appears uncomfortable and curiously stiff in the role, offering an unchanging portrait of low-key severity.
Meg Bussert is a wise, comforting Mother Superior, and when she sings “Climb Every Mountain,” the old thrill of a boldly crafted theater piece rings true. Donna English, as aristocratic Viennese Baroness Elsa Schraeder, offers the right blend of icy elegance and continental charm. Ed Dixon adds a showy perf as the devious and pompous Max Detweiler.
The children are delightful without being too precocious. Elizabeth Lundberg, as the 16-going-on-17 Liesl, dances on air with Nazi youth Rolf Gruber, played by Mark Willett. Their garden dance is an exuberant moment. An additional pleasure here is the inclusion of “I Have Confidence in Me” and “Something Good,” written for the 1964 film.
Paper Mill’s resident designer, Michael Anania, once again brings picture-book beauty to the Millburn stage. From the great stained-glass rose window of the abbey to the daunting cardboard Alpine mountain peaks, the show is pleasant to look at.