Monday, December 9, 2013

The Hills Weren't Very Alive

Thursday night we sat down to watch the new "live" production of The Sound of Music.

As a lifelong musical theatre geek I wasn't going to miss it

As a young musical theatre geek (and Carrie Underwood fan) the Girl wasn't going to miss it.

My husband, the ex music major who loves to skewer musical theatre productions (and has tortured memories of playing another Rogers and Hammerstein musical, South Pacific) wasn't going to miss it either.

I wanted to like it, really I did. After all its a rare thing to find musical theatre on a TV network that doesn't have PBS in its name. I was willing to set aside thoughts of Julie Andrews in the film. I have seen other live productions on NBC, most notably an excellent live version they did of Mr Roberts, that managed to get me to forget, at least while I was watching, the fact that these roles were played on film by Henry Fonda and Jack Lemmon and William Powell and James Cagney. And at least, I told myself, the songs in The Sound of Music weren't written for Julie's amazing vocal range. (If you have ever suffered through the film version of Camelot, and heard Vanessa Redgrave, probably the greatest actress around, but not a singer, murder songs that were written for Miss Andrews, or watch a road show production of My Fair Lady, you understand where I am coming from)

I admit I had trouble imagining Carrie Underwood in the role, however, in part because she is so resolutely American.  It's not that an American actress cant play the part, the original Maria, Mary Martin, was from Texas after all. But Ms Martin had the gift of convincing people she was whatever character she was supposed to be, including a flying boy who would never grow up. A guitar playing novice was a piece of cake.

Also, I must add that Rogers and Hammerstein are not my favorite Broadway composers (Lerner and Lowe, Jerry Herman, Meredith Wilson, and many others all wrote shows I like more.) But Sound of Music is an OK show, and it has one of my favorite songs in it, Edelweiss. Except for Carefully Taught, its probably my favorite song from any of their shows.  (My daughter pointed out to me halfway in that this show was awfully reminiscent of The King and I, a flaw I had never really noticed before. Then we amused ourselves during commercials pointing out the parallels.)


My first quibble is with the concept that the show is "live". It was live in the sense that the actors were doing it, then and there, without retakes, but it wasn't live theatre, because there was no audience. As a capable concert performer, being in front of a audience shouldn't have been an issue for Ms Underwood. Laughter and applause would have livened the show up a great deal, and given the performers something to act against. Any episode of The Daily Show or Colbert is far more live (in more ways than one) that this show. Moreover it's having a live audience that guarantees the integrity that the show is in fact being done "live". Otherwise there is no proof that movie magic hasn't been employed.

I am not a follower of True Blood, so I will skip all the Vampire Von Trapp jokes that were playing out over the Internet. I thought Mr Moyer was adequate at least. But he came off as almost as undead at your local Nosferatu. (All right, so I will make vampire jokes.) More seriously, he seemed to young to be the Baron, who after all has teenage children. (Christopher Plummer was too young as well, but he made it work.)

Thank the theatre gods, then, for the supporting cast. Mercifully they were musical theatre veterans and knew what they were doing. Audra Mcdonald, Laura Benanti and Christian Borle, whom I came to admire while watching Smash, were splendid in their parts.

Audra McDonald soared as the reverend mother, especially on Climb Every Mountain, I finally liked the Countess, and Christian Borle made Max a delightful character. The kids were all well cast too.

So it all comes back to the lead. Ms Underwood did not embarrass herself on the songs. She has a nice voice, and as noted above, although following in Julie Andrews' footsteps she wasn't singing songs that were written for her. Unfortunately Sound of Music is one of those shows that include long stretches of talking (also known as dialogue, also known as acting) between the songs—and that’s when the show came up short. Every time people started talking, it died. It was here also, that the show paid for the lack of an audience. Laugh lines die with no one to laugh at them.

I wont say Carrie Underwood was miscast in the part. She is the right age, and sort of character to be just right, actually. But being perfect in a role is only part of the magic.

Mary Martin was in her 40's when she convinced an audience she was that Austrian Postulant. That's acting, and that's where Ms Underwood, for all her sincerity came up short. She can make an audience believe in her, but as of now, she can't make them believe she is someone else.


  1. I understand, I'd have trouble with Carrie in the part too. Just cannot imagine her as an Austrian nun! But I think she must've sung well!

    1. She did sing well. If they had done a staged concert performance that basicly went from song to song she would have been fine.

  2. I agree. The Broadway vets were all terrific and the rest…well…weren't. The kids did a great job, and Carrie Underwood sang well. But her "acting" was lifeless and unconvincing. It distracted and detracted from the performance.

    1. Exactly Linda. It just goes to show that at least in the intimacy of film, singing ability is not enough; acting talent is also required.