Saturday, December 7, 2013

NBC's The Sound of Music Live

It is no secret that I do not like the movie The Sound of Music (1965). While it has many great songs (some of  Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's best work in my humble opinion), the film itself is very boring to me, to the point that I have actually fallen asleep while watching it more than once. For that reason I did not share the outrage of many at the idea of NBC staging a live television adaptation of the stage musical  (originally created as a vehicle for Mary Martin in 1959). In fact, there were two reasons I had for watching The Sound of Music Live.

 The first was the fact that it was live. Here I do have to point out that it was not the first live entertainment broadcast in over fifty years. Saturday Night Live has been broadcast live since 1975. In 1993 the entire third season of Roc was broadcast live. ER, The Drew Carey Show, Will & Grace, and 30 Rock all broadcast episodes live. The Sound of Music Live wasn't even the first big event aired live in over fifty years. In 2000 CBS aired a live adaptation of the film Fail-Safe. That having been said, I suspect it was the first live broadcast of the adaptation of a Broadway play in over fifty years, and it is not as if live programming beyond news and sporting events are exactly common these days on the American broadcast networks. The fact that The Sound of Music Live was, well, live was then reason enough for me to be curious enough to watch it.

The second reason was a question I have had in my mind for some time. Quite simply, was the stage musical better than the 1965 film The Sound of Music? It occurred to me that this was a possibility. After all, while I love the 1963 film Bye Bye Birdie, I actually think the stage musical is a little bit better. I was open to the possibility that while I find the 1965 film The Sound of Music something that puts me to sleep, I might actually enjoy the stage musical.

Over all I have to say The Sound of Music Live came off rather well for the first of its kind in over fifty years. There were no major accidents or snags, no misspoken lines. What is more I was largely impressed by the cast. Stephen Moyer made a very good Captain Von Trapp. The children all did very well, particularly Ariane Rinehart as Liesl. I was particularly impressed by Broadway veteran  Laura Benanti as Elsa Schrader. She did extremely well in the role, no mean feat given she had some very big shoes to fill (those of Eleanor Parker in the film--the one thing I love about the film besides the songs). Even Carrie Underwood was better than I expected when it came to singing. She actually has a very good voice. While I can't say that I prefer her renditions of the songs to those of Julie Andrews, she did very nearly as well in singing them.

Sadly, Carrie Underwood was also one of the show's biggest weaknesses. While she can sing, she is not a particularly good actress. Much of the time she seemed a bit stiff and other times she had a "deer in the headlights" look on her face. Some have pointed out that she also seemed to have no chemistry with Stephen Moyer, although I am not entirely sure that was her fault. One of my problems with the 1965 film The Sound of Music is that Julie Andrews had no chemistry with Christopher Plummer (the film's Captain Von Trapp). Given Miss Andrews' incredible acting talent, I am beginning to wonder if the fault did not lie with the original stage production and the film version as well--quite simply, Maria is written in such a way that there really isn't going to be any chemistry between her and the Captain, no matter who plays her.

Of course, this brings me to the other problem with The Sound of Music Live. When the cast was not singing, it was not particularly interesting (well, except for when Laura Benanti was on screen). It would seem that much of the reason I find the 1965 film The Sound of Music dull is because the stage musical wasn't particularly compelling either. Quite simply, the screenwriters did not really have a lot to work with to begin with. That having been said, I honestly think The Sound of Music Live is not nearly as dull as the 1965 film. At least I never had the desire to fall asleep. And I do think I prefer the order of the songs in the stage musical to that of the film.

While I can understand the outrage of some fans of the 1965 film over NBC's live version of the stage musical (I suppose I would be angry if someone mounted a new adaptation of the novel Gone With the Wind), I don't think the outrage is necessarily warranted. Yes, Carrrie Underwood can't act, but she can sing very well. And, while I certainly cannot speak for fans of the film, I found The Sound of Music Live more interesting over all (although still a tad dull). In the end, even if I loved the movie and hated NBC's adaptation of the stage musical, I have to give them credit for doing it. The sad fact is that for the past fifty years we have seen very little of live television or Broadway musicals on the American broadcast networks. In taking a risk and receiving good ratings with The Sound of Music Live, perhaps then NBC and the other networks will do more live adaptations of Broadway plays. Whether one loved or hated The Sound of Music Live, I think all of us can agree that is a good thing.

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