After watching last night’s live version of The Sound of Music that aired on NBC, I felt compelled to write this blog post. Two reasons for this: 1) To show that I can write about a TV program that has nothing to do with superheroes, time travelling cops, clones or a doctor that can see spirits. 2) I love The Sound of Music and is one of my all-time favorite musicals.
We all know the basic plot of the musical. It is about Maria, a wannabe nun who is sent by the Mother Abbess to be the temporary governess for the seven children of an Austrian sea captain. Of course, she ends up falling in love with him and as the two get married, the two work hard at escaping with their children from the clutches of the Nazis.
So when a live version was announced last year and hearing who was going to play Maria, which was Carrie Underwood, I was immediately skeptical thinking that this was going to be a hot mess. I thought that Underwood was all kinds of wrong to take on the part that was made iconic by Julie Andrews in the film version.
Not that I hate Carrie Underwood. I think she is a fabulous singer and after watching some rehearsal footage, I knew should could sing the part beautifully, it was her acting and her look that made me fear watching this. She looks too beautiful to play Maria. I am not saying that Julie Andrews is ugly but she has a beauty we could relate to. Also, I felt that Underwood could not act. When I saw her on How I Met Your Mother she was terrible and I feared the same. Who could have been better? In my opinion, Amy Adams but alas, I think she might be too old for the part.
Anyways, So when it came to Underwood’s very first appearance on the broadcast, she sang the title song beautifully but when she started to spout lines, she came across very flat and wooden. Later on though, I could see her nerves coming through as she was saying her lines. But I will admit that as the production went on, she did get better in the acting department. As for her singing? She was great.
I think some of the hate of this production comes from the misunderstanding that NBC was remaking the movie. They weren’t. They were putting on a live TV version of the Broadway stage play that first premiered in 1959 and starred Mary Martin.
I have been lucky to have seen two stage productions of The Sound of Music (Stratford Festival’s early 2000s version that starred Cynthia Dale and the Mirvish’s 2009 production that starred Elicia MacKenzie -the winner of CBC’s How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?) before seeing this one so I was prepared or already knew that this was not going to be the movie. I actually saw this as seeing a NT Live type of production that it was a live stage show that was captured for TV.
If I hadn’t seen any of these stage versions then I would have been surprised that “My Favorite Things” was sung by Maria and the Mother Abbess and not to the children to calm their fears (“The Lonely Goatherd” did that trick in the stage version and this version).
I was hoping for “I Have Confidence” but that worked better for the movie than a stage version. People might also be surprised that the Baroness and Max actually have two songs in the stage play (“How Can Love Survive?” and “No Way to Stop It”). One thing that this version and probably most subsequent stage versions after the movie came out was the inclusion of “Something Good” which replaced “Ordinary Couple”.
What about the rest of the cast? Well, Stephen Moyer made a fine Captain Von Trapp but I think he really tried to hard to be the cold and stern captain that he looked constipated when he said his lines. But as soon as he starts to warm and open his heart up, he started to relax. And boy does Moyer have a really nice singing voice. However, there really wasn’t much chemistry between Moyer and Underwood. My chemistry test is always the Laendler scene. In the movie, the chemistry between Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer was shown in that scene. This was sorely lacking with Moyer and Underwood. But when they did profess their love, that kiss that Moyer planted on Underwood and her kiss back was totally not a G-rated kiss. It actually was quite a passionate PG borderline PG-13 kiss.
But the two people that had chemistry was the young actors that played Liesl and Rolf (Ariane Rinehart and Micahel Campayno). Of all the Von Trapp kids, Rinehart was the better actor as was Sophia Anne Caruso who played Brigitta. However, Joe West who played Kurt was vocally great.
There were a couple of things design-wise I didn’t like. I hated Maria’s braided hair-style in the first half of the production but liked her hair when it was down when she came back to the captain and the kids. I also didn’t like the wedding clothes the girls wore. It just didn’t work for me. I did like the sets and enjoyed the transition of one set to the next.
Let’s get to our Broadway vets of this production. Laura Benanti was great as the Baroness, she gave her more layers than what the movie version gave us. I loved her sense of humor in this, seeing her jealous of Maria and she sung beautifully too. Christian Borle made for a great Uncle Max too providing the comic relief of the production and he also sang well.
But the real highlight is Audra McDonald. When I heard she was going to be the Mother Abbess. I knew that she was going to be awesome. And I was right. Her version of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” just gave me chills when she sang it. It was freaking awesome that she will be the reason why I will buy the soundtrack on iTunes.
For a live production, there was not many noticeable mistakes. There was a slight misstep that Carrie had while singing “The Sound of Music”, Michael Park stepped on Laura Benanti’s dress during the party scene but she brushed it off as it was supposed to happen. I think I saw something get in the way of one of the cameras and I think I saw a few people milling about in the garden during the scene where the Nazis come to take the captain away. And I think some microphones were crackling. Other than that it was pretty smooth.
Overall, I enjoyed this production and considering the ratings, perhaps we will see more live TV productions of musicals in the future. My suggestion would be to tackle West Side Story.