If you lie flat on your belly at the foot of the Fine Arts Center stage (you might even cheat your way into the orchestra pit), and if the back door to the theater is open, you can see through the theater lounge, through the curtains, beyond the west-facing terrace and past the foliage -- if it's blowing just right -- to a perfect glimpse of Pikes Peak.
From the audience, however, the mountains are even more accessible. Despite the fact that "The hills are alive with the sound of music" and "Climb every mountain, ford ever stream" are lyrics built into our collective consciousness, it's too easy to forget how important the mountains were to Maria and the family Von Trapp, and how central to the imagery in the film version of The Sound of Music.
The mountains are a sanctuary for the wayward novice Maria, and they ultimately mean salvation for the entire family in the inspiring high-country finale. The FAC Rep's scenic backdrop compensates for the usual difficulty of living up to the beautiful cinematography we associate with our memories of Maria kicking up her heels above tree line, and when cast member Nan Rubley offers a commanding interpretation of "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" with the scenery dripping in alpenglow at the first act finale, the last thing anyone wants is an intermission.
It's a remarkable feat to pull off a local production of The Sound of Music that can compete with the original stage and screen versions of the story, and although Julie Andrews needn't feel that her legacy is in danger, director Billie McBride and the Fine Arts Center Repertory Theatre Company restore the play to the glory lost in so many lesser productions.
Thankfully, this production is not all surface image. McBride's cast lives up to all the challenges of the show, with an unusually strong chorus of nuns opening the show from the candlelit aisles of the theater. By the time they launch into the third number, the show has already set a high standard for itself as four excellent voices try to figure out how to keep a wave upon the sand in solving the problem of Maria. The nuns are flying again in the triumphant second-act wedding sequence, proving themselves as the soaring soul of the production.
Laurie Sauvign takes on the role of Maria, the love-struck young governess who will never become a nun, bringing warmth and texture to the part in a performance that's far too pleasing to find fault with. Sauvign hasn't quite found the energetic spark to fuel her vocals with the power to balance out the splendid 10-piece orchestra, one of the best on the Front Range, but she brings Maria down to earth, making her an approachable heroine rather than a mere goddess.
The rest of the ensemble cast is so strong that it is a disservice to call any of them "supporting." Matthew Newton's Captain Von Trapp deftly navigates the journey his character must take from a distanced, militaristic father who has closed too many windows since the death of his first wife, to the courageous, principled and loving family man at the heart of the play's conflict.
Those less familiar with the play than the movie will take note of the extra edge the play carries, placing differences in perspective on how to deal with the Nazis as the primary reason for the Captain's failed engagement to Elsa Schraeder. Schraeder and Von Trapp's friend Max play a much larger role on stage, as they consistently challenge Von Trapp to "Be wise, compromise ...You don't have to bow you head, just stoop a little" in the face of Nazi encroachment into his Austrian homeland. Newton sets up a chilling effect when he sings with his family in front of a blood-red swastika in the concert hall, and when storm troopers invade the family home, it's a shock to those of us who thought those kind of invasive tactics were only used in commie Cuba.
The children in the cast are equally capable in their roles, completely convincing in their acting and characterizations and right on the money in all their singing. Rather than just pint-sized prop pieces, the younger children add depth to the show as we watch them interact with their Maria or emulate their father from across the room. Marne Collins is so convincing as the 16-year-old Liesl that I thought she couldn't be as old as 16 until reading my program notes at intermission. (Turns out she's 27.) Andrew Fountain as Kurt and Katrina Pacheco as Marta also stand out when they have the opportunity to solo.
The show's only glaring deficiency is its choreography. When walking in circles passes for dance, it's fair to say that the show leans toward the simpler side in this area, an area of consistent drought throughout Colorado Springs. And while Craig Engle's Franz and Kay Micheletti's Frau Schmidt, the domestics, are somewhat stiff, Engle's New York accent is the play's only miscue.
It's a rare pleasure to see a classic piece of musical theater live up to its legacy, and The Sound of Music offers a worthy and entertaining evening in no need of apologies.
The Sound of Music
Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Repertory Theatre Company 30 W. Dale St.
Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. Through May 21.
$20-$22; call 634-5583.