I’ve spent an unreal amount of time and energy obsessing about The Sound of Music Live! as broadcast on NBC Thursday night. I mean, I didn’t research it, or spend a lot of time looking into the production. (Although a guy I grew up with worked on the sets. Hey Jason! It looked lovely).
I was excited because I love The Sound of Music. I was excited because I love Carrie Underwood (more on poor Carrie later), I was excited because the more the world sees of world class talent like Audra McDonald, Christian Borle, and Laura Benanti the better. (More on them later too.) I was excited because it was such an outrageously old fashioned idea to mount a live musical and broadcast it in prime time. I was excited to have a viable excuse to march around to “Do, Re, Mi,” and for my sister and myself to reprise our (rather brilliant) version of “So Long, Farewell.” (If you claim to be a musical theatre person and didn’t make your family sit through your version at least once, I don’t trust you.) Mary bailed before the Von Trapp kids said good night, so that didn’t happen, but still, I was very excited.
I wanted to know if it was going to work.
So, the question remains, did it?
Um, kind of.
There were no major flubs, and there was a sort of golden hue of excitement around the whole thing. I live tweeted the event and twitter was awash of people talking about it. (My favorite was Lin Manuel-Miranda, but he’s also just my favorite person on twitter.)
There were problems, namely, as my sister put it, “Carrie Underwood, you’re pretty, you have a lovely voice, but acting…not your strong suit.” She was wooden, she was awkward, her million watt Oklahoma Country Girl smile was not going to get her out of this one. Being friends with lots of theatre people, I got really sad watching her get ripped the shreds. She was fine. She wasn’t great, but her singing was wonderful. (She killed it on “The Lonely Goat Heard”) It was a pretty big risk for her to take and that she managed to pull it off even marginally well is a victory for her.
Stephen Moyer played Captain Von Trapp. He wasn’t great and he wasn’t awful. He did alright. He, I think, suffered more by comparison than Carrie Underwood. No one expected her to be Julie Andrews, but I think everyone did expect him to be Christopher Plummer. He isn’t, but I liked his interpretation of the Captain. I particularly liked the child like glee he had as he rediscovered music and his relationship with his children. He handled that aspect very well and very differently (better than?) Plummer.
Then there was the Broadway triumpherate.
I came to this party for Christian Borle and Laura Benanti. Especially when I found out that Elsa and Max’s songs, “How Can Love Survive?” and “No Way To Stop It,” which aren’t in the movie version, were being used. Good God, do I love these songs! “No Way To Stop It” is Rodgers and Hammerstein at their preachy best, dealing with political apathy through the arguably only three grown ups in the entire play. It hammers the point home that maybe idealism will never rule the day, but it’s worth trying. It’s not as on message as say, “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught” from South Pacific, but it’s also a better song. “How Can Love Survive” is such a cheeky little duet and Benanti and Borle seemed to be having a great deal of fun being the only theatre geeks in on a joke. You know, like how you and your friends shout “Wine and Beer” at waiters?
Do your friends not do that? OK then.
And then there was Audra. One blog I read on Thursday afternoon touted her as “Musical Theatre’s Beyonce.” It’s true that she’s incredible. She’s a booming classic Broadway soprano, who can act circles around everyone and was an integral part of the “color blind casting” movement in the 90’s. (Directors wanted to cast her, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Lea Solonga so badly in traditionally white parts that they just kind of said, “Listen people, suspend your disbelief and accept that that black guy is Spanish, that black girl is a middle class New Englander at the turn of the century and that Filipino girl is a French Street Urchin. Because these voices ain’t gonna be ignored.”) She has 5 Tony Awards, 2 Grammys and a resume that reads like “Broadway’s Greatest Hits.”
You probably know her because she was on Private Practice.
Anyway, she played the Mother Abbess who basically send Maria off on her path to singing and love. She was wonderful. She took on “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria,” and “My Favorite Things” with glee. And then came the big one. “Climb Every Mountain.” This is an impossible song. It’s high, it’s idealistic and slow. It can be beautiful or terrible.
It was beautiful. It was so beautiful that Carrie Underwood was weeping. Of course if Audra McDonald was hitting high notes in a small confined space with me, I would weep too. I was on my couch and was weeping.
I’d like to see this become something that happens fairly regularly. Musical Theatre is such an important part of the American cultural landscape it’s wonderful to see it be shared in such a unique way. So, kudos to everyone involved. It was a very interesting journey.