Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat

The foothills will come alive with "The Sound of Music" when the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical returns Friday through Aug. 31 at Sierra Repertory Theatre's historic Fallon House stage in Columbia.

The musical - based on the true story of the von Trapp family in Austria - has been captivating audiences for more than half a century, drawing huge crowds when it first hit Broadway and appearing again six years later as a much-beloved film.

After 55 years, the show's appeal is still universal.

"There's something special about 'The Sound of Music,' " said Scott Viets, SRT's artistic director, who also directs the show. "Seven children singing and dancing, a love story, nuns, villains, an exotic setting - Austria in the 1930s - and that incredible musical score."

The story is an inspirational tale of love conquering all: Young Maria is failing in her attempts to become a nun and is sent by her convent to become a governess for a navy captain's seven children.

She wins everyone over and eventually the captain breaks his engagement with a wealthy baroness to marry her.

All this plays out as Austria is about to become part of Germany under Nazi rule.

The role of Maria will be played by Rhyn Saver, a New York resident whose credits include Mother in "Ragtime" and Jeanie in "Hair" at the Weathervane Theater in New Hampshire.

She said she is elated to play the young novice.

"I'm so thrilled, I can't wait," Saver said. "It's a role I've always just adored. That lavish Rodgers and Hammerstein score is absolutely beautiful. It's sacred music. It doesn't get any better than that."

Saver's first Actors Equity contract as a teenager was for the role of Liesl, Captain von Trapp's oldest child. Also, she recently married a widower with two daughters, and said she can't wait to bring her perspective to the role of Maria.

The similarity hit her when she was preparing her audition tape.

"I was like, this is my story," she said. "It's special. It's very personal to me."

The show features some of the most often hummed and memorable songs written for musical theater, including "Edelweiss," "My Favorite Things," "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" and the title song, "The Sound of Music."

"The score is a winner," Viets said. "Almost every song in this show is famous, and for a reason."

Viets auditioned some 60 youngsters, eventually selecting seven to play the Von Trapp children.

"You're creating a family," he said. "You have to have brothers and sister who kind of look alike. Also, they have to be able to sing, dance, act and be incredibly charming. The children we selected are all that and more. We're so excited about this group."

The show will also include several returning actors who are loved by SRT audiences. John C. Brown, who has played many roles at SRT, will return to play Captain von Trapp. Victoria Strong, who thrilled audiences as Anna in "The King and I," will be the Mother Abbess and Kathleen DeSilva ("Don't Dress for Dinner")will play the Baroness.

Drew Bordrew (Ali Hakim in "Oklahoma!") will be Uncle Max.

The production team is Mark Seiver, musical director; Noble Dinse, set designer; Ryan Moller, costume designer; Greg Mitchell, lighting designer; Matt Sweetland, propmaster; and Doug Brennan, stage manager.

Finally, Viets believes there is one more reason the show is so popular: its message.

"Climb Ev'ry Mountain … the message is still pertinent," he said. "It's universal. There are some nice life lessons in this play I think people can relate to."

Most Thursday and Friday performances begin at 7 p.m., Saturday evening shows begin at 8 p.m. and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees begin at 2 p.m. General admission ranges from $26 to $32 depending on date and time.

The show is suitable for children.

For more information or reservations, call 532-3120 or visit