Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Was The Sound of Music Live really that bad?

Now that some of the smoke has cleared, I'll weigh in on the live television production of The Sound of Music that was broadcast a couple of weeks ago. I won't worry about a plot summary since we all know the story. I have to start by saying that all I know of the show is the movie; I knew going in that the play is quite different from the movie so I tried not to have unrealistic expectations. And I knew that no one was going to outdo Julie Andrews. Still, I have to agree with the majority opinion on Carrie Underwood--her acting was bad, like mediocre community theater acting (there are many community theater actors who are better than Underwood--in fact, I live with one!). Because of that, the show had no center--Underwood's presence was puny, as though she was just one of the children. Her voice was strong and she certainly looked the part, but her Maria had no personality, let alone being a force of nature like Andrews' Maria.

The other weak link was Stephen Moyer as Captain Von Trapp. Moyer has theatrical chops, though he's mostly known for his role as a vampire in True Blood. I've never seen the show so I didn't have any preconceptions; he was adequate but not compelling. Again, it's probably unfair to compare him to Christopher Plummer in the movie, but Plummer did a great job making the potentially one-dimensional character both stern and sly, hard yet vulnerable; Moyer just made him stiff and stoic, and because he and Underwoood had no chemistry, the romance never came alive.

Now the good stuff: Christan Borle (a Tony-winner who played Debra Messing's writing partner on TV's Smash) brought a snarky but not overdone sense of fun to the character of Max, and Laura Benanti (a Tony-winner who played a grief therapist in the Matthew Perry show Go On; pictured below with Moyer) was fabulous as Frau Schrader--not a Baroness here--the tough businesswoman who loses the Captain to Maria. In the movie, the part was rewritten to make her a bitchy villain, but in the play she's considerably more pleasant. She and Max have two songs not in the movie which, while not particularly memorable, help to flesh the characters out. Benanti is the real revelation here, bringing the play to life whenever she appeared.

Of course, we all knew that Audra McDonald would be brilliant as the Mother Abbess and she was. True to the stage show, she sings "My Favorite Things" with Maria, but her big moment is with "Climb Every Mountain" which brought tears to my eyes (and, to her credit, Underwood's). The children were all fine, especially Ariane Rinehart as Liesel, the oldest, who sings "Sixteen Going on Seventeen."

There's also the thrill of seeing a stage production on television, live or otherwise. Growing up in the 60s and 70s, it was not unusual to see staged plays on sets especially on PBS, and this production made me realize that I miss that. The sets were lovely, and there were a couple of nice theatrical transition scenes, in particular at the beginning of the wedding scene when the set of the house opens up and the actors march into the abbey.

Overall, I'm glad this was done and I enjoyed watching it. I realize that without a name like Carrie Underwood in the lead, this would not have gotten done in the first place, but perhaps in the future, the producers will have more faith and stick with Broadway-level talent if they try this again--and given that the ratings were good, they might.