When you step into the shoes of one of the most beloved characters in musical history, you’d better get the twirl down right.
Such is the task of Rhyn Saver making her Sierra Repertory Theatre debut in the lead role of Maria in the company’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic “The Sound of Music.” The New York-based actress said playing the role made famous on screen by Julie Andrews is an honor. Still, she isn’t worried about making the problem called Maria her own.
“I had no trepidations. Everyone keeps asking me is it intimidating because it’s an iconic role. Julie Andrews’ performance is beautiful, stunning. The title song, it’s so sacred, such a gift to get to sing it,” she said. “But there is so much of Maria in me that I’m able to bring a lot of myself into the role, which is really, really fun. And (director Scott Viets) has helped me perfect the Julie Andrews twirl.”
Like Maria, Saver said she has a tendency to speak her mind. Also like Maria, she was recently married and is now part of a blended family. In the famed musical based on the real-life von Trapp family, Maria leaves her convent to work as a governess to the seven children of a widowed naval captain in 1930s Austria.
“She is also such a joyful woman and I like to think of myself as pretty joyful as well,” Saver said.
The foothills will come alive with “The Sound of Music” starting Friday at the Fallon House Theatre and running through Aug. 31. The production will feature a cast of returning actors, newcomers like Saver and a crew of child actors to play the von Trapp children. Viets, who also serves as the company’s artistic director, auditioned more than 60 young actors for the roles before settling on Stefani Potter as Leisl, Jaymie Jackson as Friedrich, Chloe Kerr as Louisa, Grace Miller as Marta, Makena Early as Brigitta, Wil Otterson as Kurt and Ruby Elaine James as Gretl.
Sierra Rep veteran John C. Brown was tapped to play Captain von Trapp. The Sonora resident first performed with the foothills theater company 14 years ago in a production of “Pump Boys & Dinettes,” which is coincidentally running at the company’s East Sonora theater through July 27. Brown was in a 2011 national tour of “The Music Man” as Harold Hill. Over the years he also has been in numerous productions of “The Sound of Music,” though never as Captain von Trapp.
Brown said the Sierra Rep production will be faithful to the movie so many have grown up with, but the troupe still strives to make the show and portrayals their own.
“Everybody knows this story; it’s like the biggest movie ever, so many people have seen it, so burned into our culture,” he said. “For me, there’s a whole new interesting track of a new view of the story from a different perspective as Captain von Trapp. And playing opposite Rhyn is terrific. She is very organic, very fresh. She makes it her own. There is the quality of Maria who is different, doesn’t fit into the box. A good Maria needs that as well.”
Other returning Sierra Rep actors include Victoria Strong as Mother Abbess, Kathleen DeSilva as Baroness Elsa Schraeder and Drew Bordrew as Uncle Max.
The musical melds experienced performers with young actors, who play the children ranging in age from 5 to 16. Oakdale Junior High eighth-grader Kerr returns to the Sierra Rep stage as Louisa, one of the von Trapp middle daughters. The 12-year-old, who previously appeared in a company production of “White Christmas,” said working with the cast has been a treat.
“There’s something incredibly special at SRT. People are incredibly talented and so warm and kind,” she said. “It’s a good learning experience for the younger ones as well. I’m learning so much about theater, it’s wonderful.”