News Column

'The Sound of Music' brings New Yorker to Columbia production

July 11, 2014

By Lori Gilbert, The Record, Stockton, Calif.

July 11--Rhyn Saver left her home in New York, where she's the mother to her widowed husband's two daughters, 13 and 15, to spend the summer in Sonora where she's playing the mother to the seven children of Captain Von Trapp in Sierra Repertory Theatre's production of "The Sound of Music."

The beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein musical opens today and runs through Aug. 31 at Fallon House Theatre in Columbia State Park.

"I got called back for this role so many times prior to meeting my husband, and I never booked it," Saver said. "You don't know why. It's always just, 'Man, I was so close.' I think I was supposed to wait until now to fully be able to do it right."

Saver, whose first professional job came when she was 14 and was cast as Liesl, the eldest Von Trapp daughter in a Jacksonville, Fla., production, has long identified with Maria, who wants to be a nun and is sent to be a governess to the widowed Von Trapp's seven children.

"She's kind of me," Saver said. "There's a line in the script where she says she can't stop saying things, everything she thinks and feels. Some consider that honesty but she says, 'No, it's terrible.' My mother used to always say I'm blunt to a fault. I say what I think and feel. I don't censor. It's my greatest asset and my biggest downfall."

In this case, it's an asset because it made her the Maria director Scott Viets was searching for.

"She is Maria," Viets said. "She so approachable and open and loving and nurturing. She bonded immediately with the kids. That's the key, that relationship. It's not forced or fake. They genuinely like her, and vice versa."

That Saver, who married musical director/composer Jeffrey Saver in November, landed her dream role isn't nearly as surprising to her as being married with two daughters.

She wasn't looking to get married. Neither was her husband, who had lost his wife to cancer when his girls were 6 and 7. The two reconnected in New York, a decade after Rhyn Saver had first met Jeffrey Saver when she worked with him in a college workshop that her university, Carnegie Mellon, offered in conjunction with up-and-coming writers.

"It was instant. I'll never forget," Rhyn Saver said of the reunion. "I have a picture of him walking into that restaurant, seeing him the first time. It's bizarre. I never experienced anything like it. It was like I couldn't breathe."

The spark simmered slowly, mostly because of his young daughters. Rhyn Saver slowly became a part of their lives and the couple married in November.

This is her first extended stay away from her family, but she inherited a family to watch over on the stage.

"The kids are great," she said. "They're so cute. I'm in love with them."

Viets is fond of them, too.

"I won the jackpot," he said of his youthful team.

About 50 auditioned for roles and he managed to assemble a group that looked as though they were siblings, had the ideal staircase height difference when they lined up, and most importantly, had talent.

"The thing that surprised me in doing this was the scope of the demands put on the children," Viets said. "They don't come in, do a number, leave and show up occasionally. They are the show. They're in six production numbers. They do a ton of stuff and it's not sing-along kids stuff. It's complex harmonies that adults have a hard time with. They sing, harmonize, blend and they have to be able to move, do choreography and act."

Viets was only a child himself when he fell in love with "The Sound of Music." Growing up on an Air Force base in England, he'd visit his British grandparents in Northamptonshire. His grandmother had a record player and four records in the room in which he slept and one of them was the soundtrack of "The Sound of Music."

"I was so enthralled by it, obsessed with it," Viets admits. "I wore it out. I played it over and over and my mission was to see this movie."

Born in 1965, the year the film starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer was released, Viets had to wait until it was re-released on the big screen. That was in 1973 when he was 8.

"I would scour the papers every day for a year, and one day, there it was. It was coming back," Viets said. "It was in London at the big movie houses. (When it was scheduled for Northamtponshire) my family was so excited for me. It was one of those things where you bought tickets in advance. I had a reserved seat and got all dressed up. It was a huge theater and my whole family made a big deal out of it. There it was, in 70 mm, stereo. I was just blown away. I credit it to the reason I'm involved in the arts at all. It was the first major thing I became aware of singing and dancing and acting."

As a director, Viets finds more rewards in the classic musical.

"It's so wonderfully crafted," said Viets, putting on his director's hat. "There's a perfect balance of that score and the heartwarming story. The love story is beautiful. You have this widower who is dying himself, inside, and this person comes along and reawakens things. He rediscovers the love for his children."

And, of course, "that music," Viets said.

Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or Follow her on Twitter @lorigrecord.


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