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The Sound of a Valiant Attempt

December 6, 2013

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I love The Sound of Music.  I’m talking about the movie. Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Eleanor Parker, Charmian Carr, it’s all just delightful. From the sweeping camera picking up Maria singing “The Hills Are Alive” to the children climbing trees wearing curtains to the nuns pulling car parts out of the Nazis’ cars, I freaking love that movie.  I can quote along with it, I love it so much.  So naturally, when NBC started promoting a live stage version with Carrie Underwood as the lead, I was very skeptical.  I settled in to watch with pizza and a cocktail and my laptop open to blast away over Twitter.

And blast I did!  And blast did everyone else!  Occasionally I’d catch a tweet about Carrie doing well, but mostly everyone was commenting on her wooden acting, the bad lighting, the awkward staging, and how much better Audra McDonald was than everyone else. (And she was. She really was.)

But when it was all over, I was actually really impressed. This is the first time that a full stage musical has been broadcast live in over 50 years. That’s a huge undertaking, and while far from perfect, they actually managed to do it.

True, Carrie was a horrible choice for Maria.  While she can sing like crazy, this was not her style of music.  Several of the songs sat awkwardly in her voice, but at least while she was singing, she was clearly invested in the emotion of the scene.  When she wasn’t singing, her delivery was flat and unemotional, displaying none of the charm and defiance that made the Captain fall in love with her in the first place.  During the second act, she did seem a little more natural, so I’m guessing that nerves played a huge part in her performance toward the beginning.

Stephen Moyer was passable as Captain Von Trapp.  It seemed like he was having some wardrobe issues, since he kept holding his stomach in a couple scenes.  Unless that was an acting choice. I really hope it wasn’t.  I wasn’t very impressed with him until he sang “Edelweiss” during the singing competition. Then I enjoyed him very much.

A surprise that I wasn’t expecting was Christian Borle and Laura Benanti as Max Detweiler and the Baroness Von Schrader. In the movie, these are non-singing roles, but NBC produced the original 1959 stage version, so they got to sing a couple of times, which was lovely.  Those scenes were so professional, so flawless. It was wonderful seeing Broadway veterans get to do what they do best.

Of course, the real standout was Audra McDonald. At no point was she less than amazing. I’ve never been a fan of “Climb Every Mountain”, but I’ll be damned if she didn’t win me over with it.  As my friend Justin pointed out, she had such urgency in her delivery that it made the song captivating to watch, as opposed to a plodding lecture from Mother Superior.  If she doesn’t win an award, so help me!

Ultimately, what NBC did wrong was try to recreate a classic.  The film version of The Sound of Music is so well known, is so treasured, so loved, so perfect, that trying to recreate it in this way was foolish.  They should have picked a different classic, one that is not so revered by musical theatre folk and laymen alike.  Like White Christmas.  Or Meet Me in St. Louis.  Then the comparisons wouldn’t be so very very obvious.

It was a valiant effort by all involved. But in this case, the movie is definitely better.

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