Since Nov 30th 2012 when NBC announced that they would be doing a live show of the Sound of Music starring Carrie Underwood as Maria, I have been waiting with anticipation to see how it would unfold. You see, the Sound of Music is my FAVORITE musical of all time. I love it. I’m also a HUGE live theater and Broadway fan. It’s one of the musicals I adored growing up that I’ve never seen a professional production (along with The King and I and Oliver.) So I was really curious to see how NBC was going to pull this off. I don’t think it was the bomb most people on Twitter last night were claiming it to be but I also don’t think it was as sensational as others claimed. It was an ambitious risk that I think if cast a little better and maybe staged a little better, could have been spectacular. Instead, it was a nice 3 hours of entertainment where some parts were fabulous and others were, well, not so fabulous.
As soon as I hear Underwood was cast as Maria, my heart stopped, and not in a good way. No I was not one of those people comparing her to Julie Andrews. NO ONE CAN BE JULIE ANDREWS. To try to compare Underwood to Andrews is like comparing Joe Montana to A.J. McCarron. It just isn’t fair. My concern was, could she act the part? I was pretty sure she could sing it but is she any sort of actress? And if she isn’t, that’s a pretty big role to thrust her in, LIVE, for her first acting gig. So I was skeptical. Also, with a million brilliant Broadway actresses out there, why not showcase one of them? Simple, NBC felt they needed a “name” to get young viewers to tune in. I think who would have been perfect is Laura Osnes. She a big Broadway star right now, she’s been nominated for Tony’s and it’s all due to a little reality show on NBC a few years back called “You’re The One That I Want.” She was the girl who won the reality show and landed the role of Sandy in Grease on Broadway. How cool would it have been for NBC to bring her back on the network that gave her her big break and have her star in this show and showcase how well she has done since the reality show. Win-Win. But I guess they felt they needed a really big name to sell it. Unfortunately, my fears were confirmed last night.
Underwood did a great job with the songs. I still feel she’s a bit nasally for me but she pretty much nailed every song and note. And those are not easy songs…especially The Lonely Goatherd. Singing is about breathing and there are some points in that song that it’s hard to find a place to take a breath to hit a note, especially when you’re jumping around on a bed and running around a room. Add in the fact that your adrenaline is pumping and it’s a lot more difficult than it appears. I was worried for her with Do-Re-Mi because when she skipped into the courtyard, you could hear she was out of breath and couldn’t sing so much as she needed to speak some of the song. And this is right before the money notes at the end of the song where she really has to hit a few high notes and you need your breath to do that. But she was able to compose herself and smartly toned it down while everyone else was singing so she could catch her breath and hit those notes. But that’s where her experience with concerts and events helps her because she’s used to singing a couple of hours a night and she knows how to take care of her voice. So I would give her thumbs up for a pretty great job vocally.
But the acting, wow, that just, wow. It wasn’t good. It was pretty bad. The line deliveries were so flat and you could tell it was very unnatural for her. Maria is a sweet and loving but feisty and fun young woman desperate to find her place in the world. I got none of that last night. What I got was a singer who can’t act desperately trying not to screw up on live TV by trying to remember all of her lines and blocking to the point where the acting part had to go out the window. And to be fair to Underwood, I don’t blame her. Acting is not her forte. It isn’t. But she was given the chance to do the role of a lifetime so of course she’s going to do it. At first I wanted to blame the director for this partially because it’s her job to work her and teach her who this character is and how she needs to bring that to life. Maybe in rehearsals she was better but when the live show came, she got really nervous and went into a shell. It happens. But you could see it was very staged…”this is when I need slam my hands on the desk, this is when I should kick my feet, this is when I should put my hand on Liesl’s shoulder.” It just didn’t work. I also didn’t sense any chemistry with her and Steven Moyer (Captain Georg von Trapp.) He had more with Laura Benanti (Baroness Elsa Schrader.) In fact people were actually rooting for the Baroness to win Georg’s heart this time. I’m serious. On Twitter there were #TeamBaroness hashtags everywhere! You know it’s bad when the audience wants Georg to choose Elsa instead of Maria. I felt bad for Underwood because when she was in scenes with Benanti, Christian Borle (Max Detweiler), and Audra McDonald (Mother Abbess) she was blown away. She couldn’t come close to their abilities and skills to command a stage and a scene and it was painfully obvious. I mean for the love of God McDonald has 5 Tony awards. FIVE!! I could spend all day talking about Underwood’s lack of acting chops but I think you get the point. So overall I give Underwood a lot of credit for taking a role she shouldn’t have been given in the first place and for singing the hell out of it and giving it her best shot. She did the best she could and I applaud her for that.
Moyer was serviceable as the Captain. He certainly looked the part and he could sing but he seemed uncomfortable on the set at times. Moyer has been a theater actor in London so being on a stage is nothing new to him. But I think what people don’t understand is how much theater actors feed off the audience in their performances. Because you act very differently in front of a live audience vs. cameras on a set. Blocking is different, the projection of your voice is different, deliveries are different. So here is a stage production happening with no audience on a TV set with cameras. So you have to act as though you’re on stage in front of an audience yet there isn’t either and there are cameras everywhere. So I can see how that takes getting used to and Moyer took a while to feel comfortable with it. And since Moyer has been doing TV for a while now, I think he forgot at times that projecting your voice doesn’t mean you have to shout at people. But he was fine as the Captain. And it’s hard when your leading lady isn’t really giving you much to work which is also why he came across better in scenes with Benanti and Borle than he did with Underwood.
As I think everyone would agree, the highlights and standouts from the show were McDonald, Benanti, and Borle. When they were front and center, it was like everything went to a new level. My jaw is still on the floor from McDonald’s rendition of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” and I knew it would be. That was the one song, I couldn’t wait to hear and a box of tissues later, I wasn’t disappointed. Even Underwood couldn’t keep herself from crying at the glorious sound that emanated from McDonald’s vocal chords. She is just genius. And leave it to Benanti and Borle to make two characters I never cared about, my favorites in this rendition. I’ve been fortunate to see both of them on stage. I even got to see Benanti’s Tony winning performance in Gypsy. So when my husband turned to me a said “hey isn’t that the chick from Go On?” I said, wait until you hear her sing. Then he says to me “oh wait, she was in The Playboy Club too…I heard her sing there.” I just shook my head. Then she started her number. By the end, my husband’s iPad was down and his mouth was agape. “Holy Shit. She can really sing.” It made me chuckle. But when Benanti and Borle were performing you could tell they were at a different level. Even when Benanti went to speak to Moyer in another room, someone was stepping on her dress and it halted her movement. She gracefully and without skipping a beat, asked the gentleman to excuse her, grabbed her dress, and spoke her line again. Total pro. Borle, as usual, had great comedic timing and worked well off everyone he was around. He was great.
Finally, we have the kids. I loved them. From Liesl to Gretl, they were all wonderful and did a fantastic job! The only one who seemed slightly nervous and awkward was Michael Nigro who played Fredrich but nothing that took away from anything and really I’m nitpicking. He was fine and had a very good voice. Michael Campayno (Rolf) was also a nice standout. I believe he’s a senior at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh and showed very well. Plus, what a voice. I hope to see him on a Broadway stage someday! Same with Ariane Rinehart (Liesl.) She had a very pretty voice and was a beautiful dancer. That young lady might have a future on the stage!
As for the show itself I think the big problem the audience had was that people were expecting a live version of the movie. All throughout Twitter last night people were ranting and raving that My Favorite Things should be in the bedroom and that there was no puppet show and what are these random songs that Max and Elsa sing, why were they put in the show, and why did they take out I Have Confidence? It’s because this wasn’t the movie! This was a reproduction of the original stage production from 1959 starring Mary Martin. The only addition was Something Good which was written for the movie and added to stage productions later on (it replaced at song called No Ordinary Couple.) Although I will say the 1998 Broadway revival (which marked Benanti’s Broadway debut at 19 years old and eventually took over the role of Maria from Rebecca Luker) did add I Have Confidence to the show and some stage productions will do that. But last night, they chose not to. But all the song placements and staging were based off the original stage production. So I think that was hard for people. I also saw a lot of comments on “no one is better than Julie Andrews so why try.” That’s ridiculous to me. While in my opinion, Julie Andrews has the best voice I ever heard and is one of the best leading ladies of stage and screen, to say no one should ever do a show again because someone was that good is absurd to me. I applaud NBC for doing something different and trying something new. I loved the idea. I think we all agree the casting of Maria could have been better but besides that, I thought it was a great idea. Have an issue with the casting but not with the idea. I think another issue that while the sets were beautiful, some were very busy and dark and hard to see the actors. I’m thinking mainly about the mountain/hillside scenes where it was dark and way too many trees and the angles the camera had to go at times blocked the vision of the actors. And can someone please tell me what the white noise sound was in the background? Was it a fan to keep the actors cool? It was really prominent at times and very distracting so maybe next time NBC can get fans that are a little quieter.
After having said all that, what did I think? I think it’s the Sound of Music and therefore I enjoyed it. Does casting the wrong Maria really throw a monkey wrench into the performance, yes. But does the casting of others and their performances make up for that a little, yes. And is it still The Sound of Music? Yes. Would I buy the DVD, no. But you better believe I’m downloading Audra’s “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” from iTunes today!
What did you think? Did you love it? Hate it? Find a middle ground like I did? I’m curious to hear what other people thought.