On Thursday night, NBC aired its eagerly awaited and high-dollar three-hour broadcast of “The Sound of Music Live!,” starring Checotah native Carrie Underwood as Maria and “True Blood’s” Stephen Moyer as Captain Georg Von Trapp. Here are a few of my thoughts on the production:
Credit NBC for a willingness to take risks: I still can’t quite believe I saw a lavishly mounted, three-hour, star-studded live theatrical production on primetime network television last night. The production was inspired in part by 1950s theatrical broadcasts of shows like “Peter Pan” and “Cinderella.” The ’50s, people. The old saying “they don’t make them like that anymore” applies.
That NBC was willing to put so much time, care and money into the production – as previously reported, The Hollywood Reporter figures the show cost close to $9 million – is a huge win for live theater and the people who love it.
Also as previously reported, 18.5 million viewers watched the live TV special, solidifying a No. 1 primetime win for NBC across all half hours of the broadcast. Don’t be surprised if we see another live TV musical this time next year; I’ve already seen the title “Oklahoma!” tossed around because of how popular “The Sound of Music Live!” was in Underwood’s home state.
Props for bravery also go to Carrie Underwood. Her previous acting experience included a 2010 guest role on “How I Met Your Mother” and a bit part in the 2011 inspirational movie “Soul Surfer,” but she boldly took the lead in the beloved musical. Not just any old beloved musical, either: Playing Maria in “The Sound of Music” meant following in the footsteps of the one and only Julie Andrews. Talk about climbing a mountain.
Did I mention it was a live production? The singer didn’t have the luxury of second takes as she carried “The Sound of Music Live!”
Underwood’s lack of experience definitely affected the production. It was the most common criticism of the show, and rightfully so. She started out stiff and self-conscious as she delivered her initial lines of unsung dialogue. She got better as the night went on, even conjuring a few genuine tears. Still, there’s a long list of Broadway, movie and TV stars who would have undoubtedly handled the acting part better.
But the production wouldn’t have done as well in the ratings without the Oklahoma native, who has a large and loyal fan base. Besides her name and star power, she brought a curiosity factor that surely caused many people to tune in who wouldn’t have bothered otherwise.
And the “American Idol” victor, as expected, did a superb job with the singing, and the majority of her lines as Maria were sung rather than said. She even hit the big high note at the end of “Do-Re-Mi.”
Even the harshest of critics had to give props to Audra McDonald for her powerhouse performance as Mother Abbess. There’s a reason she has those five Tonys and two Grammys. She sounded simply amazing as she belted “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” “Maria” and “Favorite Things,” and she was such a warm and authoritative presence as the leader of the incredible singing nuns.
The rest of the supporting cast performed well, too. Moyer started out a bit stiff, but fortunately, he loosened up and did especially well as the Austrian war hero who is loathe to see his country taken over by the Nazis. Tony Award winner Christian Borle (“Smash”) managed to bring an unlikely charm as shady von Trapp family friend Max Detweiler, and Tony winner Laura Benanti (“Go On”), made her Elsa Schrader, the captain’s one-time fiancee, appealing but fundamentally flawed.
The production definitely had accent issues, but not from Underwood, as many predicted. She ditched her twang for the role, but she still sounded American. So did most of the rest of the cast, but Moyer kept his English accent even though he’s capable of sounding American. None of them sounded Austrian, but neither did Andrews and Christopher Plummer in the beloved 1965 movie. It would have been less distracting if the creative team had picked one accent and stuck with it.
It’s a testament to how much and how hard the cast, crew and creative team rehearsed that “The Sound of Music Live!” went off with no big hitches. No one fell, no one forgot their lines, no one experienced a wardrobe malfunction – and Underwood only had 50 seconds to change into Maria’s long white gown for the wedding scene.
It’s astonishing when you think, again, this is was complex, three-hour live production.
For some reason, the lighting looked like a cheap vintage soap opera, and the special effects during the thunderstorm were pretty silly. But the costumes were gorgeous, and Underwood looked lovely, even in those odd twisty braided hairdos. The sets looked theatrical rather than cinematic, but they were beautifully designed and well thought out – especially when the Von Trapp Family Singers marched straight out of their home and onto the swastika-festooned stage at the big Kaltzberg Festival.
Despite NBC’s best efforts to get out the message that the production was a revival of the 1959 Broadway musical and not the 1965 film, the blockbuster remains so beloved and better known that there was outcry on Twitter – where “Sound of Music Live” and related topics were trending throughout Thursday night and into Friday – every time the show departed from the movie.
Honestly, I preferred some aspects of the theatrical production, especially the inclusion of the song “No Way to Stop It,” which the Captain, Max and Elsa sing about the Nazi takeover, and the shift of “My Favorite Things” so that it is a duet between Mother Abbess and Maria. Carrie and Audra belting the well-loved song together was a highlight of the show.