Last night, NBC made a brave choice and aired a 3 hour LIVE presentation of the stage version of Rodger's and Hammerstein's "Sound of Music." I had seen the promos for several weeks, including interviews with the stars, namely Carrie Underwood, and Stephen Moyer (Bill from True Blood.)
I had my doubts about Ms. Underwood in the part. For one thing, due to the huge success of the 1965 movie, the world is imprinted forever with the image of the young Julie Andrews as Maria. Ms. Andrews had a lovely classical (read that operatic) voice in those days. So I worried about Ms. Underwood in the role, even though she is a good singer.
Then I remembered the original Broadway production starred Mary Martin, probably known to most of you as Larry Hagman's mother. Yep, she gave birth to JR Ewing. Mary Martin was a little girl from Weatherford, TX near Fort Worth. She had a lengthy career in movies, on Broadway, and on TV where she played the title role in "Peter Pan" a couple of times. I remember that production from when I was a small child, maybe six or so the first time it aired. Ms. Martin was an energetic performer all of her life. She brought spunk and sparkle to the roles she played. That's the way she played Maria when she originated the role. She didn't have a classically trained voice, but she could carry a tune and fill it with emotion. I read an article today that reported "The Sound of Music" was written for her. Maybe it was.
By the way, on a side note, I used to have to visit state contractors in Weatherford, periodically. They had a statue of Mary Martin dressed in her costume as Peter Pan, right in the center of town. My mom and I got to meet her after we saw a wonderful production of "I Do, I Do" on Broadway, in which she co-starred with the incredible Robert Preston (aka The Music Man.) Ms. Martin was so gracious to a pair of star-struck fellow Texans. I'll never forget it.
I read a review today of the NBC production which panned Ms. Underwood's acting ability, but said she sang well. The reviewer also acknowledged if not for her, the production would never have come to NBC. Her name with its star-power was enough for NBC to finance the expensive production.
I agree she's not the best actor, but there's a reason for that. She's never had to do it, nor has she had much if any training. Acting isn't easy, folks, even in musical comedy. She did a fine job in the part that carried the show. That's not easy, either. I, for one, was happily surprised at her vocal range. She made every note in the difficult score. And as Stephen Moyer said in one interview filmed for a promo, she certainly can yodel.
As for the rest of the cast - the children were good. The little girl who played Gretl, the youngest Von Trapp, had a surprisingly deep voice but knew how to use it. Liesl was wonderful and the actor playing her beau, Rolf, portrayed the character perfectly.
Stephen Moyer surprised me with his mellow, melodic voice. He reminded me of folk singers from the 1960s. I knew from the promos for the show that he has had several roles in musical theater. It's good to know he can do other things besides play a emotionally conflicted vampire. When True Blood is over, he'll have lots of options.
The woman who played his first love interest, the Baroness, is an established star of Broadway, and has a beautiful, classical voice.
Finally, the woman I consider to have one of the BEST voices ever to grace a Broadway stage, Audra MacDonald, played the Mother Abbess. I could hardly wait to hear her version of "Climb Every Mountain." I was not disappointed. If you have never heard of Audra MacDonald and you want to be blown away, check out the soundtrack from the original Broadway production of "Ragtime." That is one of my all-time favorite musicals and she was astounding in the show. I cry every time I hear her songs. Also she starred as Bess in a revival of "Porgy and Bess" in the last year or so. Check out that soundtrack. It's another gem made richer by her incredible voice.
All in all, it was an enjoyable production. I know that some Broadway devotees apparently belittled the NBC version, but so what? They're entitled to their opinions. But I say, if they think they can do better, let them try.
Staging a production of any kind is hard work. Staging a production for the stage and doing it on television is harder. I was especially impressed with the staging that moved seamlessly from one set to another last night, with the cameras following the actors. It was a huge soundstage, built to accommodate the different scenes.
When the Andrew's film came out, I was literally "sixteen going on seventeen" and a young voice student. My teacher started me out on that song and we progressed through the score. I used to be called upon to entertain my family and their friends at various gatherings by singing "Climb Every Mountain." If I was feeling rebellious, I'd sing it with a heavy Texas drawl...of course that detracted from the quality of my voice. Oh well, I was always hopeful I wouldn't have to perform (sing for my supper) each time.
For those of you who missed the show last night, it will be available on video soon. WalMart, one of the primary sponsors of the show, will be selling it, along with a "sing-along version" of the soundtrack.
Finally, my last comment is, why do critics always think they have to criticize? It's not mandatory. I'd much rather celebrate the creative spirit and rejoice in the many choices we have for entertainment.
Until next time, take care, and enjoy our glorious pop culture!