Sound of Music has always been one of my favorite musicals. Of course, I love the Oscar winning feature film starring living legend Julie Andrews. However, more than the movie and the movie’s soundtrack, I LOVE the original Broadway soundtrack starring Mary Martin (mostly because two of my favorite songs in that soundtrack are unfortunately not in the movie). So, more than anything, I was looking forward to this new NBC production because it was an adaption of the original stage show and NOT the movie. Another reason I was looking forward to this new “experiment” was because, as TV movies on network television are
becoming already rare, so are the televised musicals I used to love (namely Whitney Houston’s Cinderella and Kathy Bates’s Annie, which, BTW, was a much better adaption than the overblown theatrical version from the 80′s). So I was happy that NBC was reviving the tradition. And the fact that it was going to be done live also made me very excited.
I spent the weeks leading up to this event defending the naysayers, particularly the ones who were against the casting of country music superstar Carrie Underwood. Personally, I felt like it was unfair to judge Carrie Underwood before we had actually, y’know, SEEN the show. Furthermore, it was perplexing that people were unfairly comparing Underwood to Julie Andrews, when Andrews herself wasn’t the original Maria. (Yes yes, Julia made the role “alive” and all that jazz. But it’s not like Mary Martin was so bad. I mean, she did win a Tony for her performance. I bet, back in the 60′s, when they were casting Andrews for the movie version, there were people who were like “No one can do it better than Mary Martin.” Ironic, right?)
OK…no more talk about Julie Andrews or the movie (I watch practically every year). I think it’s fair to judge the production on its own merits. And, honestly, I have to say…I really enjoyed watching this. Maybe it’s because I love the musical and all its corny goodness so very much, but I was (for the most part) digging this program. First, I need comment on the technical aspects of the production. The costumes were great. The set was absolutely lovely. The set transitions (when they didn’t benefit from a convenient commercial break) were quite impressive. And, although white noise was noticeable, and sometimes the music overpowered the vocals (most notably, “Maria” early on), there really weren’t any noticeable technical goofs. Why can’t SNL be this proficient?
And Carrie herself, as the lead performer, also didn’t goof for the most part. No noticeable trips. No big slip ups. She acted professionally and she clearly worked hard for this and put everything she had for this performance. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough. When I make that statement, I’m talking about her acting, NOT her singing. Her singing was quite beautiful actually. Yes, she’s a “belter.” But she really hit some of those high notes really well. She didn’t have a hint of country twang. Maybe it’s easy for me to appreciate her singing because I’ve always been a fan of her voice. I can (somewhat understandably) see how her voice could be considered “too nasally” (particularly in the slower ballads). But, personally, I give her singing an “A.” Again, the acting wasn’t as good. Particularly in the beginning, she was lifeless and she rushed her lines. She got better as she became more comfortable, particularly with the more emotional scenes (her best moment was when Maria criticizes the Captain for his lack of involvement in his children’s lives). I don’t think Carrie should feel bad at all for how she did, no matter what anyone says. She took a risk…and it’s pretty sad that people are so prudish and snarky that they can’t, at least, give her props for doing something other pop/country artists wouldn’t do. I personally commend Carrie – and if she made one country music fan to appreciate musical theatre, then she should feel proud. Pop entertainers should step out of the box more often.
Although, fortunately for Carrie, she had a trio of Tony winners around her to pick her up a bit. Christian Borle (as Max) was cheeky and fun, while Laura Benanti gave (with no disrespect to the original portrayer) the role of Elsa some refreshing relatable emotions. Remember those two songs that were cut for the movie I was mentioning earlier? Well, Borle and Benanti did a wonderful job performing “How Can Love Survive” and “No Way to Stop It.” Those two are such lovely Nazi sympathizers! And then there’s the majestic Audra McDonald. I think even the worst of the haters agree that McDonald killed it as Mother Abbess. “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” alone should give her a well-deserved Emmy nomination. True Blood actor Stephen Moyer (Captain) did a nice job in what is usually a thankless role. He didn’t really add anything to what I consider a pretty stiff and underdeveloped character. But, like everything else about this production, he wasn’t noticeably bad.
And, yes, the kids. THE KIDS! The Von Trapp kids were great as well. In most productions, the only Von Trapp kid who usually stands out is Liesel. So, I should say that that Ariane Rinehart who played the crazy in love Liesel did a very solid job, especially for a relative beginner. I did enjoy her duet with Michael Campayno, even though I’ve never been a huge fan of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” (weirdly sexist). The choreography was a lot of fun. But really, all the kids were great. And Carrie did a wonderful job performing “Do Re Mi” and “Lonely Goatherd” with them (that yodeling = so impressive).
I enjoyed this program…and I really hope it does well in the ratings (based on the Twitter buzz, it should at least do better than what NBC usually airs on Thursday). Network television rarely air good ol’ fashioned dramatic live-action family TV specials anymore. In this day in age, where kids are mostly given Disney Channel sitcoms and Pixar films (not hating on either of them), it’s refreshing to see something like this come along. It reminds me of my youth (I’m 22 but still) and the kinds of stuff that used to air when I was a little kid. I’d like to see networks do this more. I’d like to see more live musical productions air on primetime. Even if Carrie Underwood was mostly cast for the potential high ratings, at least NBC is introducing old fashioned musical theatre to a new generation (I love High School Musical and Glee…but that’s not what I had in mind). I approve of a future where programming like this becomes a norm and, yeah, I approve of this production.
Here are a few more notes I jotted down while I was watching:
- Carrie did a better job singing the faster songs (Do Re Mi, Lonely Goatherd, Favorite Things) than the slower ones (Sound of Music, Something Good). But, again, her singing was great throughout.
- As underwhelming as her acting was, I didn’t hear much of a Southern accent. She really worked on this.
- Speaking of “Favorite Things” – I do like it better as a duet between Maria and Mother Abbess than a “pick me up” song for the children. If anything, it just gives Mother Abbess more to do/sing.
- Some lovely moments (in terms of performance, emotion, lighting, cinematography, and set) was the “Sound of Music” reprise (when the Captain discovered his love for music again), the scene where Maria sneaks out of the house during the dinner party, and, of course, the wedding (although, why those nuns hafta sing “Maria” like that? It’s like, “Congratulations, Maria, but you’re a mess.”)
- Kurt = high note
- I think, when Carrie Underwood was crying during one of her scenes, she had read Cat Deeley’s tweets…
- Audra McDonald has FIVE TONYS. WHO CARES IF SHE’S BLACK?? IT’S THEATRE! IT’S A MUSICAL. This is an instance where “colorblindness” is OK.
- I love how, after “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” Maria looked like a secretary from Mad Men for the rest of the show.
- It’s kinda weird hearing these songs sung live without an audience or applause. It must be weirder for the actors.
- In terms of Emmys, will this be submitted for “Variety/Music Special” (a la Cinderella) or “TV Movie/Miniseries” (like Annie)? They probably would have a better chance with the former category.
OK…that’s what I gotta say. Feel free to comment and tell me what you feel…