Southern Utah's Own Sound of Music

Tuacahn Summer Festival of Theatre

How do the great redrock canyons of southern Utah form? Over millions of years oceans, lakes and rivers deposit thick loads of colorful sediments that get compressed into rock. Then, when ice ages wet the land, rivers and floods find fissures and cracks in the rocks and split the earth apart, widening chasms over steady drops toward the sea. Some cut so quickly and grandly that something akin to the Grand Canyon forms. Other cut more slowly, leaving a shallow wash.

Though it appears that such canyon carving has stopped momentarily for we as humans to enjoy, it is actually still ongoing. In fact, at Tuacahn, a performing arts center outside St. George, it takes place almost every night through the summer.

Actually, there is nothing to fear about the nightly floods at Tuacahn. Rather, these floods are all part of the act - literally. The floods are a part of the nightly musicals that take place during the warm weather months on Tuacahn's outdoor stage, which faces a spectacular array of 1,000-foot tall deep red cliffs that bleed when the sun sets.

Tuacahn, just a few miles up the road from St. George* (*closed on Sundays) and close to the entrance of Snow Canyon State Park, is an innovative non-profit corporation which opened in 1995 with the dual purpose of providing a school for the arts and a professional performing facility. The $23 million facility was privately funded and is considered to be state-of-the-art.

The performing arts complex consists of a 2,000-seat open-air amphitheater that faces the red cliffs, a 330-seat indoor theatre, and all the necessary accompaniments needed by actors as well as a smaller outdoor stage, and a pavilion area for eating and gathering, all housed in an innovative architecture that blends well into the surrounding desert.

The Tuacahn Center for the Arts works to preserve the American musical theatre for the current generation and a new generation of theatergoers. Tuacahn High School for the Performing Arts opened in 1999 as Utah's first public charter high school. The school offers an intimate, rigorous college-prep curriculum that focuses on music, dance, drama, visual arts and technical theatre; many students end up in the summer playbill. The school's 42,000 square foot facility includes classrooms, a library, a large dance studio, a black box theater, rectal hall and music studios.

Varied though it may be, it is the summer lineup of outdoor theatre that to the public best knows Tuacahn for. Banking on the enduring popularity of classic, mainstream hits, the theatre puts on three hits a summer. This year's lineup included Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music, and Nunsense. My good friend Laura and I saw The Sound of Music, and we thoroughly enjoyed our evening.

Now, I will admit to not being a huge fan of musicals.In fact, I believe that I may still suffer from a post-traumatic stress disorder inflicted upon me at a very young age by my parents, who made me watch The Nutcracker smack in the middle of Christmas break. I went a good 20 years without seeing another musical.

Actually, our evening started not with the musical but first with a lovely late afternoon drive to Tuacahn from St. George. The parkway winds among river washes and next to spectacular mountains; even though the temperature was still in the 90s the day had a sort of enjoyable desert fineness to it. At the center, we were first treated to the nightly dinner served chuckwagon style. We enjoyed chicken and rice, a salad, plenty of melons, and desert; I learned later that those who see the Oklahoma! musical get a dutch oven dinner. After dinner, lazing around the beautiful water-splashed pavilion, we were treated to a short play put on by local students. Then the doors to the main stage opened, and we filed in.

The main outdoor theatre is in a steep bowl amphitheater, meaning each seat has ample view. Beyond the stage the canyon rises gently at first, and is used as a sort of overflow stage area; beyond that the canyon rises vertically to a plateau high above.

The Sound of Music, of course, is set in the Austrian Alps. At Tuacahn, the characters had a much different landscape rising behind them, of course. But while it may have been unusual at first to imagine the scenes unfolding in glacial meadows, I found that the stark desert was also a metaphor for the dangers and challenges that the musical's characters faced.

The Sound of Music is likely the best known of all American musicals, and is among the best known musicals in the world. First presented on Broadway and then in an Academy Award winning 1965 film, it features an unforgettable musical score that places the very real threats of Nazi Germany's advance upon Europe with a heartwarming love story. Maria, a nun preoccupied with nature, is called to leave her convent and tend to a motherless family led by a stern captain presiding over a brood of seven precocious youths. As Nazis overtake the countryside, the Captain is torn between the love of a sophisticated city woman and the practical, understanding Maria.

Now, what was that about a nightly flood? Oh yes, the floods. Tuacahn contrasts the desert's dryness with waterfalls, sprinklers, pools and the occasional downpour (and during intermission on hot nights, a fine mist is turned on to cool the crowd). Actors standing dripping wet on the stage should not surprise anyone, but a cooling midnight breeze at the end of the musical might. The night's clarity eventually envelopes Tuacahn, but the memories of the night do not easily fade for those who witnessed it.

The Seven Wives Inn

Beyond the tip of the morning paper, the leafiness of a quiet St. George neighborhood takes over. A few walkers are out early on this Sunday morning. I put the paper down and have a sip of coffee, then dig into a grand plate of Belgian waffles. Such is how most mornings begin at theSeven Wives Inn, a St. George historic landmark just two blocks from downtown. The 13-room, two-building bed and breakfast was originally built in 1873 for the wives of Brigham Young, the second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who constructed a winter home across the street. The inn features fantastic dining, a swimming pool and bikes, video cassette machines in each room with a video library, and plenty of opportunity for quiet reflection. Get to breakfast early so you can snag a table and linger.

Starting last week you will see a new feature on Articles: a photo gallery! I take quite a few pictures with every story, but because we like for this page to load quickly only a handful go up, and those that go are on the small side. What we plan to do here is attach a variety of photos that did not make it on to the new page, and keep them as large as possible.

Jeff's Bio

Back to top Print this page E-mail this page