“Never work with children or animals”
– W.C. Fields
“You’ve got spunk…. I hate spunk”.
– Lou Grant
There are no animals in The Sound of Music but there are children; lots of children. And it certainly took ‘spunk’ for Carrie Underwood to choose as her first major acting role, one that invites, indeed demands, comparison to Julie Andrews and Mary Martin. I won’t claim she rose to the occasion. She didn’t. Neither was she as bad as social media would suggest. Critics complemented her singing and were, justifiably, underwhelmed by her acting. Facebook and Twitter, however, were the equivalent of dousing her in pigs’ blood. CNN said;
“The Sound of Music Live!” has become the new definition of “hate-watching”.
Carrie bashing aside, there is plenty of blame to go around for what was less-than-great about NBC’s The Sound of Music – Live! But there is a lot of well-earned credit for what was terrific too.
- Kudos to NBC for broadcasting a musical live. Thursday night’s presentation was the first of such broadcasts since CBS’ 1957 live broadcast of Rogers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella staring Julie Andrews. The CBS presentation, done at a time when the broadcast networks dominated television programming, was seen by more than 100 million viewers. By contrast, a paltry 18.5 million watched Thursday’s The Sound of Music – Live! That might seem disappointing but television has changed. 18 million viewers for a single program was a big win for NBC in the current entertainment landscape; big enough to encourage more such events.
- The live broadcast went off with only a few, very minor, hitches. An actor stepped on the train of Laura Benanti’s gown during the party scene. At one point, there was a close shot of a seated Underwood singing “Something Good” into Stephen Moyer’s (Captain von Trapp)
crotchbelt buckle. They cut quickly to another camera for a longer shot which wasn’t quite focused or positioned properly to take the handoff. I didn’t see any other stumbles. That is impressive given the complexity and size of the production.
- The production was pretty faithful to the original stage production. I was glad they included the song “Something Good“. Written for the film, it has often been included in revivals on stage. I was glad they did not include “I Have Confidence“. In the film it covers Maria’s journey from convent to estate but it is unnecessary on the stage. Also, it was not written by Rogers & Hammerstein. All the other music was from the original 1959 stage production.
- There were no musical errors and the singing was quite good.
- The children were cute enough to be heartwarming without moving too far down the sickeningly sweet scale.
- The costumes and sets looked great.
- The transitions from one set to the next were remarkable. There was one point during the wedding when a wall was flown as the couple walked down the aisle. It was unclear whether that was an error or just a wonky set design. In either case it was minor.
- Audra McDonald was outstanding as Mother Abbess and her rendition of “Climb Every Mountain” was a highlight of the evening.
- Christian Borle was very good as Max Detweiler. Max is a challenging role in this type of production since the humor in his dialog falls a bit flat with no audience to react to it.
- Laura Benanti played Elsa Schrader with great warmth and depth. Fans of the movie will see a stark contrast with the calculating coldness of Eleanor Parker’s performance. In fairness to Ms. Parker, it is probably easier to make Frau Schrader likeable in the stage version where it is a singing role. That character’s songs were cut from the screenplay.
There are fewer negatives in the production but they are significant.
- Carrie Underwood is beautiful and likeable. She has a strong singing voice. Unfortunately she has little experience as an actor and appears to have to no idea how to sing in character. The songs were sung beautifully but they sounded as if they were sung at a Carrie Underwood concert. There was no sign of ‘Maria’ in them. Sadly, the non-singing moments fell even flatter.
- Stephen Moyer looked the part of the dashing sea captain but his lack of stage experience showed. He came off as stiff and awkward. I never saw any real connection with any of his children. It is nit-picky to notice that he made no attempt to conceal his English accent. I would have been better able to suspend my disbelief on that had their been more emotion in his performance.
I liked The Sound of Music – Live! It is a ‘pet peeve’ of mine that critics choose to review a production based on what it isn’t rather than what it is. Much of the criticism is the result of the show’s failure to meet expectations that were inaccurate or unreasonable. Much of the responsibility for that must fall to the producers.
- It’s worth asking whether a live broadcast of the original stage production of The Sound of Music was the proper choice for this event. The term that is always used to describe The Sound of Music is “beloved”. That is certainly true of the movie. Most of the television audience has never seen the stage production. The demographics divide into three groups; those too young to remember TSOM in any form; those who love the movie but know nothing of the stage version; and those who are familiar with both. A production like this, if done well, has the greatest appeal to the third, smallest, group. The middle group is the largest and most likely to watch. But they are more likely to be dissatisfied simply because of the differences between the stage and screen versions of the show.
- Most of the audience has never seen this type of presentation before. Even many of those who understood it was the stage and not the screen version were surprised that it was done in a studio and not on a stage in front of an audience.
- I suspect the choice of Underwood and Moyers was based on their appeal and ‘name recognition’ but, in some ways, they were almost set up to fail. Moyers has no significant stage acting experience. Underwood has no acting experience at all. This weakness is exacerbated but surrounding them with a supporting cast that is so clearly better at what they are all doing. McDonald has been performing on Broadway for more than 20 years. She’s been nominated for seven Tony awards and won five. Borle has been performing on and off Broadway for more than 15 years. He has two Tony nominations and one win to his credit. Benanti has been a Broadway star for more than a decade and can claim four Tony nominations and one win. Her credits also include the role of Maria in the 1998 Broadway revival of The Sound of Music. These Broadway heavyweights, rather than making up for the weaknesses of the leads, had the effect of making the principals look even more out of their element.
For those who missed it, the presentation is available online; The Sound of Music – Live!
I didn’t watch because, well, I wasn’t interested in Carrie Underwood as Maria.
But that’s just me.
Then i heard how great Audra was–and Audra is almost always great–and looked for videos to watch her performance.
‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain” was breathtaking, but then “My Favorite Things” really showed that, while Carrie has a lovely voice, that doesn’t translate to an acting voice. She looked sadly out of place alongside Audra.
But, that said, i was kind of disgusted with the “hate-watching” Tweets and Facebook posts I saw.
Could not agree more. Thanks for reading and commenting.
We saw the sing along show tonight at the National Art Centre in Ottawa. People here do not sing along, they have difficulty saying good morning to a neighbour, that kind of town. That put aside the show was sold out, very few kids, Thank God! The show was not bad but I was underwhelm all together.
Like the “Will” character on Will & Grace , you could have worn a yellow jacket and gone as “Ray – a drop of golden sun”
What a great job you did on this! There is absolutely nothing that you didn’t cover. I’d like to comment on everything you addressed, but I would wind up having a post as lengthy as yours. I’ll just add a few of my thoughts:
Carrie did a decent job of singing. She just doesn’t have a “Broadway” voice. Mary Martin, who tackled the role at age 45 did a superior job.
I was looking forward to hearing the beautiful, “Edelweiss” and was so disappointed. Theodore Bickel (stage) and Plummer (film, although his voice was dubbed) did a memorable job. Both the stage and film recordings will endure, but I’m afraid this version will not.
Looking forward to more of your reviews. Saw “Godot” and Pinter’s “No Man’s Land” last week with Stewart and McKellan and would have loved to read your take on it.
Thanks for the kind words. I would love to have seen the Stewart/McKellan “….Godot”- my favorite play and a dream cast; what’s not to love?! I don’t know “No Man’s Land” but it’s Pinter so again…what’s not to love?
“I so wanted this to be great. But Underwood’s acting was so distracting that I stopped watching after an hour.”
This is the entire text of an email my friend Martin sent me the day after the TSoM broadcast. His review was not as thorough as yours;-)
Since you have never disclosed any of your professional background on this blog (not a request), the complexity of your insight here does make one wonder if perhaps you did this ‘for a living’ once upon a time. Pardon me for always being impressed.
Thanks for the kind words.
Nothing so glamorous in my professional background; 30 years in mortgage banking. I did some community theater back in the day but, much as I wish it were otherwise – no talent. I stopped auditioning for productions when I learned I enjoyed taking acting/scene study classes as much as performing; still no real talent but enjoyed the process and met some great people who shared the love of theater.
I see everything I can afford to see. I read plays often, I search out reviews and info on the web. My talent lies in being a pretty good audience member and like to think I’m an informed consumer.
As for the reviews; I think I’ve mentioned it before but there is a reason the blog is subtitled “Adventures in Hubris”. There is no earthly reason why anyone should care what I think but I enjoy writing them and doing so forces me to think critically about what I see.
Thanks for reading/commenting
CORRECTION: In a separate email, a knowledgeable friend pointed out to me that Stephen Moyer does have some stage experience. He is currently in an LA production of “Chicago”. I couldn’t locate any other musical credits but, in doing a more research, I also learned he worked with the National Theatre Wales, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Oxford Stage Company before moving to television. I still didn’t love his performance in this show but lack of experience of the stage may not have been the cause.
Interesting commentary, Someone. I caught the technical stuff, it’s part of my issue with suspension of disbelief having worked in the industry from 1970 until 2007. I agree with the acting. Carrie wasn’t in character while singing. That takes a special actor, in my opinion, especially when you aren’t on stage and having to project, and play to a huge theatre.
Anyway, I found it entertaining, and pretty good, not that I’ll watch the rerun!
You do a fine job analyzing theatre and movies.
You should start your own YouTube channel reviewing TV, movies, and opera. Or do you have that deer in the headlights look in front of a camera like someone I know? Woops! Hating!
Thanks for the compliment…. I think. Not much anxiety about being recorded or public speaking but I’d suffer a lot on the eloquence meter. Not claiming my posts are astonishingly articulate but whatever is there is the result of many edits and revisions.
Oh yeah, it was meant as a compliment because of the many informative and enjoyable reviews you have posted. Hey maybe you and Harper’s other dad could be the next Siskel & Ebert but on YouTube. I could see you guys sparring over a movie or opera review.
I fear we would end up more like Dan Akroyd and Jane Curtain on the old SNL Point/Counterpoint
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