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.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Actor Tony Musante Passes On

Tony Musante, who starred in the Seventies police drama Toma, died on 26 November 2013 at the age of 77. The cause was a haemorrhage that occurred following oral surgery.

Tony Musante was born on 30 June 1936 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He attended Oberlin College in Ohio and after graduating he attended a drama school at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He made his television debut in 1963 in an episode of The Dupont Show of the Week. In the Sixties he guest starred on such shows as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Trials of O'Brien, and The Fugitive. He made his film debut in 1965 in Once a Thief. In the Sixties he appeared in the films The Incident (1967), The Detective (1968). l mercenario (1968), Metti, una sera a cena (1969), L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo (1970), and Anonimo venezian (1970).

In the Seventies he appeared in the films The Grissom Gang (1971), The Last Run (1971), Il caso Pisciotta (1972), Goodbye e amen (1978), and Eutanasia di un amore (1978).  In 1973 he was cast in the role of David Toma on the ABC TV series Toma. While the show received good ratings, Tony Musante left after one season to pursue opportunities in stage and film. He also guest starred on the shows Marcus Welby M.D., The Rockford Files, Medical Story, and Police Story. He made his debut on Broadway in P. S. Your Cat Is Dead! in 1975 and went onto appear in productions of A Memory of Two Mondays / 27 Wagons Full of Cotton and The Lady from Dubuque.

In the Eighties he appeared in the films Notturno (1983), La gabbia (1985), and Il pentito (1985). He guest starred on the shows The Equaliser and Night Heat. He was a regular on the soap opera Loving for a time. In the Nineties he was a semi-regular on the TV series Oz. He guest starred on the shows Nothing Sacred and Acapulco H.E.A.T. He appeared in the film The Yards (2000). In the Naughts he was a regular on the soap opera As the World Turns. He guest starred on the show 100 Centre Street and appeared in the mini-series Traffic. He appeared in the films La vita come viene (2003), Promessa d'amore (2004), We Own the Night (2007), and Ice (2013).

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Choreographer Marc Breaux R.I.P.

Marc Breaux, who choreographed Mary Poppins (1964), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), The Slipper and the Rose: The Story of Cinderella (1976), and several Broadway shows, died 19 November 2013 at the age of 89.

Marc Breaux was born on 3 November 1924 in Carencro, Louisiana. He studied dance at the Southwestern Louisiana Institute of Liberal and Technical Learning (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette). During World War II he served as pilot in the United States Navy. After the war he was a pre-med student, but abandoned his studies after he went to a dance class with a friend that was taught by legendary choreographers Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman.

Mr. Breaux made his debut on Broadway in 1948 as a dancer in Kiss Me Kate. In 1950 he appeared as a dancer in the Broadway show The Barrier. In 1955 he had his big break, with significant roles in the Broadway revue Catch a Star. In 1955 he also made his television debut as the Walrus in the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation Alice in Wonderland. In 1956 he appeared in the Broadway production Li'l Abner and the film Design for Dreaming. In 1960 he appeared in a Broadway musical version of Destry Rides Again It was that year he did his first credited work as a choreographer, on the Broadway revue Do Re Mi.

The Sixties saw Marc Breaux move into television and film. In 1961 he served as the choreographer on The United States Steel Hour episode "Private Eye, Private Eye".  In television he would serve as the choreographer for such shows as The Andy Williams Show, The King Family Show, and The Hollywood Palace. He also choreographed the television specials Judy and Her Guests, Phil Silvers and Robert Goulet, Of Thee I Sing, and The Paul Lynde Halloween Special. Of course, Mr. Breaux would be best known for his work as a choreographer on films. He worked on the films Mary Poppins (1964), The Sound of Music (1965), The Happiest Millionaire (1967), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), Huckleberry Finn (1974), The Slipper and the Rose: The Story of Cinderella (1976), and Sextette (1978).  On Broadway he served as a choreographer on Subways Are for Sleeping (1961),  Minnie's Boys (1970), and Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen (1970).

Like Michael Kidd, Marc Breaux was notable for dance routines that required a good deal of athleticism. This can be seen in the chimney sweep sequence of Mary Poppins as well as the "Me Ol' Bamboo" of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. At the same time, both in his work on television and such films as The Sound of Music, Mr. Breaux was notable for creating sequences with non-dancers so that they actually looked good. Working with his wife at the time, choreographer Dee Dee Wood, Marc Breaux would create some of the most memorable dance sequences on film.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Encore Rebrands Some of Its Channels

If you are a subscriber to Encore, you may have noticed a change to some of the service's channels on 2 December.  Encore Drama, which aired dramatic films, has been replaced by Encore Black, which is meant to showcase programming for African Americans. Encore Love, which aired romance films, has been replaced by Encore Classic, which is meant to showcase programming for Baby Boomers. Encore's other channels are more or less remaining the same, although Encore Español is being moved to a lower tier as well as seeing its programming expanded to include telenovelas. A horror movie bloc called "The Graveyard Shift" is being added to Encore Suspense and will air on week nights at 8:00 PM Central.

This is not the first time Encore has rebranded its channels. Encore Drama had begun in 1997 as True Stories & Drama. In 1997 it became simply True Stories and then in 2005 it became Encore Drama. Encore Suspense had started as Mystery in 1997 and was renamed Encore Mystery in 2005. In 2011 it became Encore Suspense. Encore Family had started out as WAM! and was given its current name in 2011. Of course, what sets much of Encore's earlier rebranding apart from this recent rebranding is that for the most part the programming of the channels really didn't change. Indeed, Encore Suspense pretty much shows the same things that Encore Mystery did. This recent rebranding is seeing two channels change entirely to the point that it's hard to say they are really still the same channels.

Speaking as an Encore subscriber, I have very mixed feelings about the rebranding. I think the idea of Encore Black is admirable and I think there is a need for programming for African Americans. That having been said, I have to question some of what they are programming on Encore Black. Quite simply, I have always thought the TV show Diff'rent Strokes was a tad bit racist. In addition to questioning some of the programming choices for Encore Black, I also have to say that I would have preferred they had added it as a new channel rather than replacing Encore Drama with it. I did not watch Encore Drama nearly as often as I do Encore Suspense or Encore Westerns, but I did watch it and I enjoyed it very much. I know that I am going to miss it.

While I will miss Encore Drama, I can't say the same about Encore Love. It was probably the Encore channel I watched the least. That having been said, I think the name "Encore Classic" is very misleading. When I first read the words "Encore Classic" I thought it was going to be Encore's equivalent of Turner Classic Movies. Instead, it is simply their channel for Baby Boomers and airs films like The Amityville Horror, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, and Elf. These are films I think even the least discerning movie viewer would not think of as "classic". They really should have called it something else entirely. At any rate, even if I was a Baby Boomer, I cannot say that I would watch the channel given what they are currently airing.

At any rate, it is difficult to say how well Encore's most recent rebranding of channels will go. I know of at least one person who is not happy they did away with Encore Drama. As for myself, I am dismayed that Encore "Classic" is nothing of the sort (couldn't they have called it something else). I have no idea what other Encore subscribers might think of the changes. In the end I suppose it will only matter if a large number of subscribers get upset and unsubscribe from Encore or the new channels simply get no viewers at all (which I think might be possible for Encore "Classic").

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Lewis Collins R.I.P.

Lewis Collins, who may have been best known for starring the TV show The Professionals, died 27 November 2013 at the age of 67. The cause was cancer.

Lewis Collins was born 27 May 1946 in Bidston, Birkenhead, Cheshire. His father was a shipwright and jazz musician, and by age 13 Mr. Collins had learned to play the drums. He played with his father's jazz band and later a local Liverpool band called The Renegades. Lewis Collins also apprenticed as a hairdresser. Learning bass, he served as a bassist for a rock group The Eyes and The Mojos. After holding jobs from window cleaner to lorry driver, Lewis Collins studied acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He went onto perform at  the Glasgow Citizens Theatre in Glasgow and the Royal Court Theatre in London. In 1974 he made his television debut in an episode of Z Cars. He guest starred on such shows as Marked Personal, Village Hall, Crown Court, Warship, and Rooms before becoming a regular on the show The Cuckoo Waltz. He made his film debut in a bit part in Confessions of a Driving Instructor (1976). He guest starred in an episode of The New Avengers before being cast in The Professionals. The Professionals proved successful, running for five series. He also appeared in the film Must Wear Tights (1978).

In the Eighties Lewis Collins appeared in the films Who Dares Wins (1982), Code Name: Wild Geese (1984), and Der Commander (1988). He guest starred on the show Robin of Sherwood and the Eighties revival of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He appeared in the two part television film Jack the Ripper. In the Nineties he appeared as Colonel Mustard in the serial Cluedo. He guest starred on the shows Tarzan, The Grimleys, and The Bill. After his acting career had ended he sold computer equipment.

While Lewis Collins' acting career was hardly extensive, there can be no doubt he was ideal for playing action heroes. He was convincing as Bodie on The Professionals, bringing to the character a mixture of old fashioned machismo and a sense of humour. Lewis Collins played the role well, so well that he was considered as a possible replacement for Roger Moore as James Bond. (according to Mr. Collins he didn't get the role because producer Cubby Broccoli thought he was too aggressive). While he was not cast as Bond, Mr. Collins left a mark as Bodie on The Professionals.