A version of this column appears in Friday’s Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.
Carrie Underwood to star in NBC’s “The Sound of Music Live!” Thursday night
The Checotah native will play Maria von Trapp in the three-hour adaptation of the 1959 Tony-winning Broadway hit, the final musical from the esteemed team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.
Even a year after the initial announcement, it’s hard to believe that Carrie Underwood is about to become the next Maria von Trapp.
Or that the Oklahoma country music superstar will fill the iconic role opposite Stephen Moyer, a British actor best known for playing a gentlemanly Southern vampire.
In a three-hour live televised production of “The Sound of Music,” no less.
The mind boggles.
“Nobody does stuff like this,” Underwood says in a promotional video for “The Sound of Music Live!,” airing at 7 p.m. Thursday on NBC.
Such an understatement.
Despite the previews, the interviews, the images of Underwood’s milkmaid-wholesome face topped by old-fashioned twisty braids, the notion of a live TV remake of “The Sound of Music” just seems so unlikely in this age of risk-averse visual media. And the Checotah native seems an unlikely choice to play an Austrian aspiring nun who becomes governess to a widowed war hero’s children, eventually marries him and later must flee the Nazis with her new family.
Of course, Julie Andrews is at least partly to blame. Powered by Andrews’ four-octave range and indelible performance, the 1965 film version of “The Sound of Music” earned five Oscars, briefly supplanted “Gone with the Wind” as the highest-grossing movie of all time and practically ensured that no one else would seem a suitable Maria ever again. The English icon – who, to be fair on the accent issue, doesn’t sound any more Austrian than Underwood — just has a way about her. I got to interview her once, and when she smiled and cocked her head at me in that Julie Andrews way, I couldn’t decide whether to curtsy like I was addressing the queen or beg her to be my honorary grandma.
But Underwood, 30, has her own down-to-earth charm, her own powerhouse voice and her Oklahoma work ethic going for her.
“My entire fall has basically been all about ‘The Sound of Music,’” she told Women’s Health for the magazine’s November cover story. “That’s a wonderful project that I’ve been asked to be a part of. It’s a live musical on TV so there’s been a lot of prep work. I’ve been in New York quite a bit doing run-through’s and working on a kind of music that’s not exactly the kind of music that I’m use to singing. So it’s been a lot of work and it’s been really challenging. But I think in the end it’s really going to be very rewarding. It’s going to be exciting to actually do a musical live on TV.”
Besides, “The Sound of Music Live!” isn’t a remake of the movie. Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, the producing team behind NBC’s musical series “Smash” as well as the acclaimed film versions of the song-and-dance hits “Chicago” and “Hairspray,” are adapting the 1959 Tony-winning Broadway hit, the final musical from the esteemed team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.
“We would never consider remaking the movie — it is a masterpiece and a classic — but what most people haven’t seen is the stage show,” Zadan told TV Guide. “And we want it to feel cinematic.”
Their production also is inspired by 1950s theatrical broadcasts of shows like “Peter Pan” and “Cinderella.”
“We’ve always wanted to do something like this, because it feels like, in order to create a real event on TV these days, it needs to be live,” Meron told TV Guide.
Of course, Underwood has plenty of experience singing live, and judging from the snippets of “The Sound of Music” soundtrack I’ve heard, she’s worked hard to keep her Oklahoma accent from becoming an issue. In addition to putting on hundreds of concerts, the six-time Grammy winner has extensive experience singing on television, from her breakthrough on “American Idol” to her longtime gig co-hosting the Country Music Association Awards. In 2007, Underwood even made the hills comes alive when she belted “The Sound of Music” theme on CBS’ “Movies Rock” special.
Her supporting cast has plenty of singing experience, too. Moyer may be best known for “True Blood,” but he got his start in England doing musical theater and starred in the Hollywood Bowl’s three-night July run of the musical “Chicago.”
“The Sound of Music Live!” also features Audra McDonald (“Private Practice”), who has won five Tony Awards and two Grammys, as Mother Abbess; Tony Award winner Christian Borle (“Smash”), who will portray von Trapp family friend Max Detweiler; and Tony winner Laura Benanti (“Go On”), who will portray Elsa Schrader, the captain’s one-time fiancee.
“It’s a family event. Everybody can sit down and fall in love with this story and these songs all over again,” Underwood says in a preview for the TV musical.
No matter how unlikely it may seem.