Playing now through January 14, 2023, a run already extended by one week due to the popularity of this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, you need to get out to Aurora see the Paramount’s production. After running the Jeff Awards last year with their stylish Kinky Boots, the Paramount has proven once again that they take musicals very seriously with this new production of the beloved tale of a not-very-good novice nun finding her true life’s path at the home of a gruff Navy Captain with seven children.
From the second the Nun’s chorus opens the play, you can hear what you’re in for and that is absolutely incredible ensemble singing throughout. Every time more than one voice is raised in this show, you are treated to some of the most excellent harmony singing you’ve heard in some time. It rivals what’s going on over at the Lyric Opera. And the Lyric Opera’s chorus does not come to play. And neither is anyone on stage in this Paramount production.
Ably directed by Paramount’s Amber Mak, who also designed delightful choreography for this production, you’re invited to forget what you know from watching the film over and over again and experience the stage version of this play anew. With songs not included in the film, and different motivations and actions by several characters that allow you to look at them differently, the stage production is a new and different animal with songs in different places than the film and more emphasis on the looming Nazi threat. Once the Anschluss happens, the tone of the show and the feeling of the action shifts drastically, so you feel viscerally what the Von Trapps were going through in that moment. The trigger warning about Nazi symbolism for this production is apt. It happens in dramatic fashion and it’s just so awful when it does. Paramount keeps going hard with its anti-Nazi statements and I’m here for that 100%.
Packed with the songs you know and love like “Edelweiss,” “My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi,” “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” “Climb E’vry Mountain,” “So, Long, Farewell,” and the title song, “The Sound of Music” there are also several numbers for the fabulous Elsa Schrader, Max and Captain Von Trapp that never made the movie and add political punches while being quite charming here.
The cast is wonderfully led by the absolutely darling Alicia Kaori as Maria. Not only does she have an incredible set of pipes, but she’s a fine actor who absolutely makes this her own. There is no aping of Julie Andrews or Mary Martin or anyone else here. This is a delightful and sincere Maria who wants to be so good, but is best when she’s leading children in childish games. She makes you understand what the nuns are talking about in their famous song.
Susan Moniz as The Mother Abbess has the powerful singing to match Maria as well as the bright spark of humor and liveliness that again, is largely absent in the movie. Her voice is somewhat lighter than is often the case in this part. She sounds a lot like Maria here, but it works. They are in some ways the same person who chose different paths.
The nuns, led by Liz Pazik as Sister Berthe, Sophie Grimm as Sister Margaretta and Harriet Nzinga Plumpp as Sister Sophia, are absolutely off the hook. Everything they do is adorable, and their ensemble singing is world class. You are literally happy every time you see them because you know as soon as they begin to sing something excellent will happen. There is a high note that ends their last number that gives you chills.
The same can be said of the children. I have never seen such a good cast of children. Their singing, dancing and acting is all spot on. From the youngest to the eldest they were absolutely outstanding and every one of them had real in-character personalities, so that when Maria yells at the Captain about neglecting them, you feel it. Some of them are making their professional debuts in this show, but they have very bright futures ahead.
Julia Aragon, actually 16 and making her Paramount debut as Liesl is a very strong singer, dancer and leader for the children here. Her sub plot in this production lacked a bit of dramatic menace, but the flirtation parts between her and Michael Harp as Rolf were adorable. I wish she’d actually learned a couple of chords on the guitar seeing they kept putting one in her hand to pretend to be leading the children and accompanying them, but that’s an extreme knit pick.
The tag-team of Emilie Lynn as Elsa Schrader and Stephen Schellhardt as Max Detweiler are absolutely splendid. They dilettante things up to the max and Lynn looks absolutely exceptional in her array of fabulous hats and 1930s costumes. And they bring the serious drama to this production as well. All of the making light of the Nazi threat and opportunism rests on their shoulders and they do it fabulously. Elsa isn’t just a horrid, decorative snob here. She runs a corporation back in Vienna. You can see why Capt. Von Trapp likes her. She is quite different than the film.
Christopher Kale Jones lacks the gravitas and baritone notes for Capt. Von Trapp, but he doesn’t detract from the production significantly and has moments of genuine warmth and charm. And this is a very treble ensemble, while the score is not. You notice the lack of depth of tone in many of the voices, but not enough for it to do more than be noted.
The scenic design by Jeffrey D. Kmiec is exceptional as well as the lighting by Jose Santiago and sound design by Adam Rosenthal. Theresa Ham outdid herself on Elsa, but all of the costumes were splendid and period-appropriate.
All in all this entire production is highly recommended and it’s a splendid holiday treat for the whole family.
Tickets are available at the Paramount Theatre box office.
Photos by Liz Lauren.