If you thought, Sierra Repertory Theater had put their finest performance up front this season with “Les Miserables,” think again.
The current production of “The Sound of Music” at the Fallon House Theater in Columbia is an eloquent reminder not only about why this musical is a classic but about exactly how high this local theater company sets the bar.
Eloquence requires a top of the line production team and performers, especially when you are doing a play that could easily be dismissed as dusty with familiarity. This team, led by Scott Viets, a self-professed fan of “The Sound of Music,” has poured pure gold into the show, creating something the glows through and through.
A handsome painted canvas of the Austrian mountains sprinkled with edelweiss greets the the audience as they enter the theater. The scene gives way to candlelight and projections of opulent stained glass widows as the performance starts with the haunting “Preludium.”
The nuns of Nonnberg Abbey (Tracy Brown, KerryAnn Buck, Romy Evans, Nichole Markle, Caitlin Randall and Krista Joy Serpa) file in, producing sublime a cappella harmony as they proceed down the side aisles toward the Mother Abbess (Victoria Strong), who stands center stage. The effect is powerful and promising.
Enter Rhyn Saver as Maria Rainer, cavorting on a mountaintop, singing “The Sound of Music.” All it takes is a few moments with Saver — a charismatic blend of Julie Andrews and Sally Fields — to know she will fill all expectations as the heart of the show. A delightful presence whose forthrightness and exuberance rings with sincerity, she has a voice that fits Maria’s songs as if Rodgers and Hammerstein composed them for her.
When Maria, an aspiring nun, is sent to serve as a governess, we meet the von Trapp children — Liesl (Stephanie Potter), Freidrich (Jaymie Jackson), Louisa (Chloe Kerr), Kurt (Will Otterson), Brigitta (Makena Early), Marta (Grace Miller), and Gretl (Ruby Elaine James) — stunningly accomplished young vocalists and actors. The seven sing fluidly in close harmony, managing complex choreography with playful abandon.
Potter, with Taylor Simmons as Rolf, delivers an unusually hilarious version of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” Potter almost chases Simmons about the stage as he repeatedly slips out of reach.
For an actor, the part of Captain von Trapp can be difficult, melting from stern and wooden to delicately alive and in love. John C. Brown manages both sides of his character, but his appeal is strongest when he is falling for Maria. First, however, he must project annoyed reserve.
To get through Maria’s and the Captain’s reluctance to acknowledge the spark between them, something strong is needed. Victoria Strong as the Mother Abbess, serves as the center of gravity, appropriately wise and loving. Until, that is, she rocks the theater off kilter with her rendition of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” in a voice that is unfailingly fabulous.
In the Act 2, when Brown bounds across the stage to greet Maria, he is nearly as irrepressible as Saver is throughout Act 1. The Captain may melt upon Maria’s return, but the audience melts when Brown performs “Edelweiss.” By the time Saver and Brown generate true chemistry in the touching “Something Good,” the theater is afloat in something wonderful.
An ensemble of players supports the story’s sweetness with differing flavors of individuality. The Captain’s intended fiancée, Baroness Elsa Shraeder, played by Kathleen DeSilva, is certainly more sophisticated than Maria, but in DeSilva’s hand she is also graciously aware rather than condescendingly cruel. Hers is a refreshing touch that lends another note of poignancy to the production.
Drew Boudreau brings effervescence to the charmingly opportunistic Max Detweiller. Becky Saunders hits comedic high notes, but is also kindly and astute as the housekeeper, Frau Schmidt. Renny Doser is solid and respectable as Franz, the butler, while Edward Hightower’s Herr Zeller keeps the dark shadow of Nazi Germany slithering amidst the sound of music.
Faced with the play’s multiple locations and the tight Fallon House stage, scenic designer Noble Dinse meets the challenge beautifully by creating an elaborate set that lends imaginative authenticity to the von Trapp home and the Austrian mountains. Superb costuming by Ryan Moller is in turn staid, whimsical, or elegant.
With reverent vision, director-choreographer Scott Viets drives the production’s appeal. Each song is so powerfully interpreted or so intimately captured that you will likely be immersed in the music for hours after the curtain descends. As I drove home with my granddaughter, who was my date for the evening, she said, “I can’t get that song out of my head.”
“Which one” I asked?
“ ‘So Long, Farewell.’ ”
The lyric I kept hearing was “These are a few of my favorite things.”
“The Sound of Music” is a favorite thing — a reminder of the rich culture of stories many of us were exposed to as children, a reminder of the importance of music in creating family and community, a reminder that song can be a reprieve from hardship and sorrow.
Clearly SRT is putting forth musicals this year that won’t let us forget.
“The Sound of Music” plays through Aug. 31. For tickets, call 532-3120.