The new national tour of The Sound of Music, playing at the Paramount through Sept 11, is fantastic.
The new national tour of The Sound of Music, playing at the Paramount through Sept 11, is fantastic.

The weirdest, most unsettling thing about The Sound of Music is that it's timely again. Penetrating. Trenchant, even. Who saw that coming? This is supposed to be the musical of raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, of Maria yodeling "The Lonely Goatherd" during a thunderstorm, of Dad and the babysitter glancing at each other and—whoops!—suddenly they're in love. But when five gigantic swastikas unfurl at the end of act two (they really do look almost like the number 45), and the nine main characters disappear between the red curtains, audience members will be forgiven for wanting to join them. Who doesn't want to escape the world of category 5 storms and neo-Nazis with tiki torches? Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo.

It's a fantastic production. The voices are phenomenal, especially Lauren Kidwell as the Mother Abbess, who sang with so much power she had the crowd screaming in awe. The lighting design, by Natasha Katz, is particularly affecting—the shafts of light and glowing stained-glass in the abbey, the pinks and oranges and baby blues of sunset on the estate during the Anschluss. The scenic design, full of elegant vertical lines and intricate lace-cut walls by Douglas W. Schmidt, is gorgeous to behold (one backdrop of cartoonish mountains notwithstanding). The way one scene slides to the next reminded me of the vertical lines in Bartlett Sher's King and I.

Jill-Christine Wiley, as Maria, sings high and clear as a bell, and she looks the part of Maria, though, if I had to quibble, there is something slightly off about her acting. She doesn't exude the warmth or wildness of Maria; at key moments, she exudes the warmth and wildness of a broom. But one can't have it all. When the 5th Avenue Theatre did Sound of Music in 2015, Kristen deLohr Helland acted Maria brilliantly, but she didn't have Wiley's upper vocal register, the one that allows Wiley to end "Do-Re-Mi" on that impressive high note. Also impressive, Maria doesn't just teach the kids to sing "Do-Re-Mi" in this production, she teaches them solfège at the same time, that complicated musical-note semaphore thing most adults can hardly do, much less little kids.

You know something is amiss when you're almost rooting for Elsa Schraeder (played with impeccable coolness by Melissa McKamie) to marry Captain von Trapp (the rather fetching Mike McLean). But Wiley and McLean are both such good singers you can see why they end up falling for each other. Who needs chemistry when you have harmony? There are no production photos of McLean available just yet, but here's a commercial he's in if you want to have a look yourself:

When the von Trapp kids came out singing "Sound of Music" and reminded their father that he has feelings, I couldn't help it—I started crying. During the intermission I admitted as much to my date, and he replied, "I cried during the whole act. I was hoping you couldn't tell."