If you have ever read this blog before you have to know that I watched every minute of NBC’s live production of The Sound of Music on Thursday night. I live tweeted some of my thoughts as well as shared something on Facebook at the time, but I decided I wanted to give it a more thoughtful analysis here on my blog. The ratings are now in and it was a big hit for NBC, which means maybe they’ll do something like this again in the future. I certainly hope they do as long as they learned a few things from this production. I don’t really think they will learn the things I want them to, but one can hope.
Obviously the biggest problem with this production were the leads in Carrie Underwood and Stephen Moyer. Neither of them were the right people to cast in these roles. Despite some of the snarky things I myself said on Twitter ultimately I feel bad for her. She was out of her element, and should not have been cast in the role. I think she knew it too, so I hope she somehow manages to avoid all the stuff people were saying about her. She is not an actor. She is a fine country singer, but too often she was not properly acquitting herself of the songs in this production. Broadway show tunes are just not designed the same way that pop songs are and you can’t sing them the same way. This was the same problem I had with Katherine McPhee on Smash. She’s a fine pop singer, but she doesn’t really know how to handle a Broadway song. For half the songs I felt like Carrie Underwood was just shouting at me. Not everything she sang was that way though, and when she calmed down and didn’t try to be overly belty she did a decent job.
Now let’s talk about Stephen Moyer, who I was whatever with on the singing. I wasn’t overly impressed, but nor did I have any huge problems with it. What I did have a problem with was the fact that he seemed overly angry throughout the entire production. The combination of that with Carrie Underwood’s poor acting gave them negative chemistry, and I never for a minute believed that they were possibly in love. There’s a scene where Laura Benanti as the Baroness stands at the top of the stairs watching with jealousy as they dance, and I was thinking this looks ridiculous. She is giving a great performance and acting like she’s supposed to, but there is not one single thing on display here that you should be acting that jealous about. See also when whichever kid it is (I can’t remember) tells Maria that Captain Von Trapp is in love with her I was like oh really? I hadn’t notice because literally I had not.
As expected though Laura Benanti as the Baroness, Audra McDonald as the Mother Abbess, and Christian Borle as Max Dettweiler were fantastic. The day I saw that Christian Borle was cast as Max I said I hadn’t thought of it myself, but I could not think of a more perfect person for the role. Their scenes were what made the entire show worth watching. I mean Audra McDonald’s rendition of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” alone was worth watching all 3 hours of this not-so-great production.
The real problem in my opinion is the need to cast people with some kind of star power outside of the theatre world because as much as I wish it wasn’t true being famous in the theatre does not mean you are a household name in probably 90% of America. Thus you end up with actors who can’t sing or singers who can’t act in major roles in movie and tv musicals. See Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia! (My ears still hurt) or Russell Crowe in Les Miserables for further examples beyond Carrie Underwood and Stephen Moyer. You throw them alongside a bunch of veteran theatre actors playing the secondary roles in these productions and you wind up with your stars just looking even worse. I understand the conundrum, but I often think there has to be better people who have both some modicum of talent for both singing and acting and have a big enough name to helm one of these productions.
I saw a lot of people saying things like no matter what it’s a win for theatre, and it’s exposing people to things they would never experience otherwise. They will see the fantastic performances from people like Audra McDonald and Laura Benanti and maybe fall in love with them and seek out more theatre or something like that. Maybe that’s true. Maybe some kid somewhere is now watching every video of Audra McDonald that he or she can find on YouTube. My fear is what might happen instead is that people did tune in either because they love The Sound of Music and wanted to see what this was going to be or because they like Carrie Underwood, but saw how not great it was and will now think this is as good as it gets and never bother to watch another theatre production again. I do hope it’s the former.
Also if NBC ever does try this again I beg of them to hire a different costume designer because really there are no words. The costuming may even have been worse than Carrie Underwood’s acting. The costumes were ugly and did not stay consistent. Why did Maria go from wearing an ugly dirndl to looking like a flight attendant in the 1960s back to a dirndl? And what was with all the shorts on the men? Egad!
The final issue I think was that many people based on what I was seeing do not understand that the original theatrical production of The Sound of Music and the movie version are not the same. NBC went with the theatrical production and I saw a lot of people complaining that they were screwing it all up. Ultimately I personally believe that NBC made the right call, but they probably also lost some people on any future productions they might try because of it.
This was an ambitious production on NBC’s part and I applaud them for it. I really do hope the ratings inspire them to try something else but with better casting.
I can’t embed it, but head over to NBC’s site to watch Audra McDonald’s incredible performance of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”. You won’t regret it. I promise.