Does this sound like The Sound of Music to you?
The Sound of Music is the only Rodgers and Hammerstein musical with no overture. Instead there is the first of 22 songs (see song list at bottom) — and it’s not one you’ve hummed a thousand times, like Do-Re-Me (Do a deer, a female deer, re, a drop of golden sun…”), or The Sound of Music (The hills are alive with …). It’s called Preludium, and it’s sung in Latin….and in a convent. Yet, thanks to Audra McDonald, it turned out to be a great start — even a highlight.
Another highlight: Audra McDonald singing Climb Ev’ry Mountain. Here’s a video of her doing it earlier at Rockefeller Center. Believe it or not, her live performance in the musical tonight was even more moving and powerful.
McDonald played Mother Abbess, which demonstrates what a person of such talent as McDonald can make out of a usually thankless role.
What about the rest of the Sound of Music, the three hour special on NBC?
The idea for a live, stage-version production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, based on the true story of the von Trapp family, came from the two creators of “Smash,” Neil Meron and Craig Zadan. They recalled from their childhood the memorable live television events of Mary Martin performing in Peter Pan and Julie Andrews in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. And there is no question there was anticipation and excitement in the idea of such an event, even a manufactured one — enhanced rather than undermined by the opportunity to share the experience through Twitter. (The cast did have the unfortunate timing of having to perform just a few hours after the major downer of an actual event.)
It was also smart to use the stage version, which differs from the movie in interesting ways — darker, with a couple of songs omitted from the movie — although only true aficionados might notice. The production also benefited from a luscious design — both the costumes by Catherine Zuber and the set by Derek McLane — and some first-rate players, most of whom had the good fortune of being both major theatrical talents and also familiar faces on television. Above all, besides Audra McDonald, this meant Laura Benanti, who played Elsa, the elegant rival for Captain von Trapp’s affection — so fabulous in Zuber’s ensembles that you wondered why the Captain would leave her for the pig-tailed youngster. But it was a treat as well to see such stage pros like Christian Borle (best-known for Smash but and eight-time veteran of Broadway, most recently in Peter and the Starcatcher) and Kristine Nielsen (who was so wonderful in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike) work their magic through six sets captured in the moment by a dozen cameras.
Click on photographs to see them enlarged
But Meron and Zadan seemed to miss a major lesson from the 1950s shows they remembered so fondly. Those shows starred Mary Martin and Julie Andrews.
On NBC, Carrie Underwood, the American Idol winner and country singer, played the lead role of Maria, the would-be nun who becomes a governess to seven motherless and insufferably adorable children, introducing music into a saddened household and falling in love with their father and her employer, the Captain. When Underwood was announced for the role made famous by Mary Martin on Broadway and Julie Andrews in the movie, there was a lot of nay-saying and snark. But the nay-sayers turned out to be largely on target.
Granted, there were some songs Underwood handled well, such as “The Lonely Goatherd” with all the yodeling.
Indeed, her singing was not the problem. It was her acting; she was never believable as Maria. To put this charitably, as my colleague Kevin Daly did, Carrie Underwood might have been better served by a TV version of Annie Get Your Gun, which would have played more to her strengths.
The publicity machine surrounding this “Sound of Music” made sure to let us know that, though Stephen Moyer may be known only as a vampire on True Blood, he has an extensive background in the theater; he’ even sung on stage. This may be, but his Captain seemed to me like a petulant wooden soldier compared to the easy authority of Christopher Plummer in the part in the 1965 movie, even though I haven’t seen that Julie Andrews vehicle in decades.
Was “The Sound of Music” a success? Will it mark the return of live theater to television? That surely will depend on the Nielsen ratings, and I don’t mean Kristine’s.
I call this a recap rather than a review, because nobody reads theater reviews, and everybody seems to consume television recaps avidly.
The Sound of Music
My Favorite Things
Sixteen Going on Seventeen
The Lonely Goatherd
How Can Love Survive?
Reprise: The Sound of Music
he Grand Waltz
So Long, Farewell
Climb Ev’ry Mountain
No Way To Stop It
Processional and Maria (The Wedding)
Reprise: Sixteen Going on Seventeen
Reprise: Do-Re-Me (the Concert)
Edelweiss (The Concert)
Reprise: So Long, Farewell (The Concert)
Finale Ultimo: Climb Ev’ry Mountain
Update: The Sound of Music dominated the ratings for the entire three hours it aired. Roughly 18.5 million people saw it — better than any three-hour period on NBC in almost 10 years — and about 50 percent more than the attendance at all shows on Broadway for an entire year.