Saturday, December 07, 2013

Final thoughts on SOUND OF MUSIC LIVE

Here’s what I liked about THE SOUND OF MUSIC LIVE (or SOUND OF MUSIC TAPE DELAYED on the West Coast). It was event television. The show got big numbers and yesterday everybody was talking about it. So rarely in this age of individual viewing habits do we as a country get to have a shared experience that isn’t a football game.

I give Carrie Underwood props for bravery. That’s a big role to fill in front of 30,000,000 viewers and I thought she did the best she could. She’s a great singer. But she can’t act. She just can’t. There were moments that were painful. But then moments that were magic when she sang. I know there are purists who disliked the fact that a young country singer was playing Maria, but if young singers don’t embrace this music and expose other young people to it, the music will fade into the mist. Sure, it would have been way better if Anne Hathaway did it, but if I were running NBC I’d take Carrie Underwood – subpar acting and all – in a heartbeat.

Broadway pros Laura Benanti and Audra McDonald were solid (although I’m not sure there were African-American nuns in Austria back then… maybe so), and the kids did a great job. Some of those sets were very unwieldy. Anytime there was a scene on that mountain I held my breath. There were a few bobbles along the way but frankly, that’s what made it fun. It was LIVE. As long as the kids didn’t screw up (which thank goodness they didn’t) I was happy. Kids don’t need the trauma of goofing up in front of 30,000,000 people here in the day of snark.

With the success of SOUND OF MUSIC LIVE, we can expect other big name musicals to get the same treatment. Please Fox, don’t do MY FAIR LADY with Brittney Spears. The next one or two will be attract interest and then by the time they do PAJAMA GAME with Lena Dunham the trend will be over.

But congratulations to all concerned... except Wal-Mart.  Thank God I could fast-forward through their commercials.

What did you guys all think?

36 comments:

Curtis Davis said...

I think the majority of TV critics and Twitter snark artists are way out of touch with what actual American viewers want to watch.

Jeff Q said...

Ken, This just proved your point about a studio audience being important. Without a live audience, it sucked some of the life out of the show.
Hope we see more experiments like this.

Anonymous said...

There should be a few more of these, scattered throughout the broadcast year. Live television always has the element of danger in it. Carrie Underwood may not have been my casting choice - but voice and popularity won out over acting skills.

PS: the NBC "Sound of Music" was produced in the old Grumman Aircraft factory on Long Island - the one that built lunar modules and jet fighters.

ODJennings said...

There's 101 things I can snark about. The uplights in the forest, the odd decision to dress her like a Pan Am stewardess in her honeymoon scenes, the weird audio hiss throughout the show, and the apparent effort they made to capture the look and feel of a Telemundo Novela are all worthy of discussion.

That said, it was very entertaining television, and certainly more interesting than whatever Chuck Lorre had served up for us over on another channel. I hope this starts a trend, and my hat is off to everyone involved.

I guess what I'm left with is a new respect for the job Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer did back in 1965. As I was watching, I was thinking that Stephen Moyer simply wasn't old enough to be convincing as the Captain. Then I looked at IMDB and Moyer is 40, but Plummer was only 36 when he did the part, and no one can say he wasn't convincing.

Rick Baldwin said...

It's interesting that people keep comparing this televised theatrical production to the motion picture or refer to it as a "remake." This was just another staged performance of the musical "The Sound of Music." Every week high schools, colleges, community and dinner theatres and pro companies perform this same musical. Many of those productions are not the best you'll ever see. None of those productions labor under the thought that they are remaking the motion picture. None of the Marias believe they are trying to replace Julie Andrews in the hearts of America. The history of Broadway is full of leading actors with big star names who were horrible stage actors or even mediocre singers. This production was not trampling on any sacred, holy theatrical grounds. If anything, it was following rich tradition.

ohnooooo! said...

Hey Ken, Wouldn't it be something if Hollywood were actually brave enough to do an original musical!? (like they used to do back in the heyday) Get ready for more remakes!

Matthew S said...

Ken, I assume you don't actually think they intended Audra McDonald's character to be an American -- of any descent. Apparently we're so trained to use the phrase "African-American" that we use it even when it makes no sense, as in a article I once saw where Nelson Mandela was called the first African-American president of South Africa :-).

Ed from SFV said...

All the dialogue was rushed to fit too-narrow a window. Too many commercials forced all of them to abandon a "real" feel. Not one scene was allowed to breathe. In no way was this on CU - she had no chance.

Moyer was a complete waste. Worst miscast in memory. He had the bearing of a frat president, not a militaristic and uber-proud Austrian.

Bud Wlkinson said...

Feared the worst and was pleasantly surprised and satisfied. Carrie Underwood couldn't act? What was anyone expecting? She doesn't have any training or experience. Considering that and the cirumstances, she did well. Too bad they couldn't have had a studio (hangar?) audience as it would have juiced the energy - given the actors some feedback and brought in the TV audience a little bit more. A curtain call would have been nice,too. Football can run over. Why not a live event like this? Maybe NBC should do a rebroadcast - make it four hours, add some "making off" footage and post-game interviews to learn how the actors felt before, during and after. Hope this prods NBC to doing more of these live musicals - even The Pajama Game. Yes, reunite Harry Connick Jr. and Kelli O'Hara from the Broadway revival.

Michael said...

The people who complain about how this is a disgrace because Julie Andrews was great might stop to ponder that Mary Martin played the role on Broadway, and Ms. Andrews had just been denied the chance to play her Broadway break-out role, Eliza Doolittle, in the film version of My Fair Lady.

The point being, these things rarely come out the way purists want. I didn't watch. I like Carrie Underwood's singing. I also know that she would give the part her all. But Audrey Hepburn probably gave a better acting performance as Eliza, but her singing wasn't quite up to Julie's level (and I have heard her recordings, which were all right, but of course they dubbed in Marni Nixon).

Matt said...

I came in expecting a train wreck and didn't get it.

The first scene was an awful start for Carrie Underwood, mostly not her fault. The first thing we see her do is sing the title song with all we have in our minds is Julie Andrews. Her voice didn't hold up.

Carrie also seemed small when paired with Audra.

The role they gave Carrie was a very bland version of Maria. Maria can been written to be much funnier and nuanced. However, probably because of her inexperience they asked her to play it doe eyed and I thought she did fine.

The two best performances were Audra and the character Max (sorry I don't know the actor).

But the best scene was Carrie's, her rendition of Something Good was brilliant.

DByron said...

Pairing Underwood with Tony winners like Benanti, Borle and McDonald may have been a mistake. Although general wisdom says when you surround yourself with great actors they make you better, here the comparison hurt Maria. Even so, Underwood wasn't bad.

vicernie said...

your comment about skipping the commercials reminded me of a Friday question I have wanted to ask. the only commercials that have any staying power to me are humorous ones and they often turn up on YouTube. can sitcom writers turn out a good thirty second, funny commercial?

Jean said...

Okay -- it MUST be my hearing, or everyone else is used to the musical score being SO loud the singers have to practically over vocalize to get over it.... and a lot of the songs required the singers to go soft and they disappeared altogether.

The score is supposed to accompany the singer, not the other way around.

Pamela Jaye said...

Our regional grocery chain, Publix, also advertised in their breaks. I found it ironic, as Walmart is targeting them by name in their ads here. Also, since they were seasonal Publix ads, you had to guess whose they were, until the end.
I have only seen about 45 minutes of the first hour, so I'll have to watch more before I can comment on the actual production (though you would think after 6 seasons of Private Practice (or fewer) I could have remembered Audra's last name.
At 9 I bailed for Grey's (which I will choose over anything other than Something with Scott Bakula, or a Scrubs episode parodying House). I think at 10 I actually watched Scandal live (that's rare, I'm usually up to 6 eps behind). I don't know why I didn't just come back - it's not as if I'd have been spoilered..

Trevor said...

For the most part, I thought the acting was quite bland. I think the cast needed a live audience -- badly. If they do something like this again, I hope they have one and also invite audiences to watch a couple dress rehearsals too. There's no substitute.

Though her acting was very flat, I thought Underwood's voice was lovely at times. It's important to remember that she was running, jumping and dancing around while continuing to sing. That's incredibly difficult and something that Julie Andrews didn't have to do in the film because the singing was pre-recorded.

I think it's also important to remember that the script is 54 years old. It was a very different time back then in terms of style of acting and writing. The script reads pretty flat and I think it takes very gifted performers to make the material come alive. I think we imbue this musical with a lot of warmth but I feel a lot of that comes from the performers since much isn't on the page.

I'm very glad that NBC made it and that it did well. I look forward to more and hope that it inspires a few people to see some live theatre.

Looking forward to the Sondheim special on HBO.

Breadbaker said...

The one difficulty that I think was not overcome at all was accommodating Carrie Underwood's accent (and I understand she worked on reducing the Southern twang but obviously not heading towards any kind of Germanic diction). The dialogue simply doesn't work in some places--the original scene when she is meeting the staff, some of Captain Von Trapp's lines, and of course all the Nazi lines--when done in an American accent. The director, I think, has two choices: use Germanic accents for the character delivering such lines, or rewrite the lines (no one worries about making changes to a musical's book). Doing neither was a mistake.

Stefan said...

Hardly anybody here in Austria knows The Sound of music but you seem to love it. The question is: Why?

Cap'n Bob said...

Didn't see it. The remarks reminded me of the time I saw The King and I with Haley Mills in Seattle. She could act but her singing was mediocre. I assume she was there because of her name more than her overall ability, and it sounds like Underwood was, too.

Lorimartian said...

I wondered why the director didn't get a better acting performance from Underwood, then I read an interview with her (Beth McCarthy-Miller - "directed 11 seasons of SNL and the live episodes of 30 Rock"). "We barely got the show blocked before we started run-throughs." Really? Not enough time? Why oh why? Underwood looked like she was preoccupied with hitting her marks and just getting her lines out. It seemed that the inexperienced Underwood was left to fend for herself in creating her character. She needed more coaching, and that was the director's responsibility. After all, a good singer has an emotional connection to the song, and Underwood is a fine singer. If she had sufficient coaching, it's hard to believe that she couldn't develop a deeper connection to the character, but maybe not. Here's the link to the interview http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/12/06/sound-of-music-director-on-what-went-right-and-wrong/?_r=0

All that said, Underwood's singing was lovely, and her commitment can't be questioned. McDonald proved once again that she is an incomparable talent. I'm glad they found a spot for Christian Borle (Max) who was so great in "Smash."

I applaud the effort. Despite the flaws, it was entertaining, and I'm happy so many people tuned in. Producers Meron and Zadan have a lock on this genre. It's clear this is their passion. I, too, hope for more, but give these productions more time in preparation, and, as Ed said, let them breathe.

Richard Rothrock said...

While I had the same response to it that most everyone here, including Ken, had, I was just happy to see live musical theater back on network TV. Reminded me of my childhood watching Mary Martin do PETER PAN and Leslie Ann Warren in CINDERELLA. I wish they did more of it still.

scottmc said...

I liked that broadcasting the stage version restored songs that were cut from the movie. I also felt the German/Nazi threat more than in the feature film. The main drawback was that the movie benefited from filming on location while the live version looked like an SNL sketch.

Anonymous said...

Love the black Austrian nun. When they do a musical of "Roots," I'll be looking forward to the white spear-chuckers.
Agreed upon psychosis is FUN!

Jeff said...

Hey Anonymous,

If you're so proud of your racist comments, how about using your name. How very brave of you.

Ryan said...

Christian Borle has now supported two former American Idol contestants.

Albert Giesbrecht said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Norm said...

I guess the number of people who have seen SOUND OF MUSIC as a STAGE production with a "professional" cast are few and far between compared to the number who have seen the film, so that is their reference point and why everyone keeps bringing up the film, and not Mary Martin or any other stage production of note.

You can almost never compare a film to a stage production - ever, let alone a television production.

A few years ago, I saw a 1st Class version of MARY POPPINS here in Los Angeles at the Ahmanson Theatre. Was it enjoyable? YES! Did it hold a candle to the film - of course not.

WEST SIDE STORY; MY FAIR LADY; CHICAGO (the 2nd half of LES MIZ) were so well done on film, you can never compare a stage production to them again.

The only real LIVE stage show that has ever hit it big on TV was Mary Martin's PETER PAN (shown for years as an event) because the story and the cast were so unique. Martin and Cyril Ritchard: does it get any better?

I would have loved to see Lea Michelle, but I'm sure her GLEE commitments wouldn't allow here to be part of it.

VP81955 said...

I guess the number of people who have seen SOUND OF MUSIC as a STAGE production with a "professional" cast are few and far between compared to the number who have seen the film, so that is their reference point and why everyone keeps bringing up the film, and not Mary Martin or any other stage production of note.

You can almost never compare a film to a stage production - ever, let alone a television production.

A few years ago, I saw a 1st Class version of MARY POPPINS here in Los Angeles at the Ahmanson Theatre. Was it enjoyable? YES! Did it hold a candle to the film - of course not.

WEST SIDE STORY; MY FAIR LADY; CHICAGO (the 2nd half of LES MIZ) were so well done on film, you can never compare a stage production to them again.


For much of the first third of the 20th century, there were many stage adaptations of "Oz" stories -- not just L. Frank Baum's original book, "The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz," but later stories in the saga. Licensing these productions were big financial successes for Baum, who in the 1910s established a film studio in Hollywood (where he lived) that made movie adaptations of various "Oz" books before his death in 1919.

However, the colossal success of the 1939 movie (especially after it evolved into a TV perennial) not only has obliterated most stage adaptations, but the public's knowledge of Baum's subsequent "Oz" stories. Perhaps the box-office surprise of "Oz The Great And Powerful" will change things.

Chris said...

Cap'n Bob: Interesting comment about Haley Mills. The Anna role in "The King and I" was never intended for a great singer, although great singers have done the part (Barbara Cook and Rise Stevens come to mind). The original Anna, Gertrude Lawrence was spotty, at best, and the part, which was written for her (the only time R & H wrote for a star from the inception of the project) took that into account. Someone famously said that Lawrence had the greatest range from C to C# of anyone in the theater. That sounds suspiciously like Noel Coward, but they were great friends, and I'm not sure that he'd take a shot like that, but he might have. I'll bet Haley Mills was charming. Wish I'd seen her in it. I had a musical project and we considered her once upon a time, but the vocal demands were much more demanding than those of Anna. I still find her one of the most engaging performers ever.

Merrill Shindler said...

Do you think America is ready for a live Rocky Horror Picture Show?

Ken Levine said...

Only if they show it at midnight.

Greg Ehrbar said...

This TV event is extremely significant more because of what it might lead to than the first attempt (and hopefully since the ratings were good, this will not be the last).

The number of satisfactory movie adaptations of Broadway musicals is pretty small, really. Yes, "The Sound of Music" was a megahit and "West Side Story" was tremendous, but "Hello Dolly!" nearly put 20th Century Fox out of business.

Gene Kelly himself was not pleased with "Brigadoon," as he was self-conscious about his singing and the role really called for a tune-belter, plus MGM couldn't yet shoot on location so the film looks stagey.

Other big screen misfires: A Chorus Line, Camelot, Man of LaMancha, On Your Toes, Evita, Mame, Paint Your Wagon and The Wiz.

Meron and Zadan made a better TV movie of "Annie" than the multi-million dollar big-screen version. A better "South Pacific" has yet to be made, though the TV movie was a valiant attempt to improve on the Josh Logan's "lookie at the pretty color tints we keep using whenever Mitzi Gaynor changes her mood" one.

Back in the live TV days, a musical or straight play was done more than once. "Peter Pan" was done about three times live before it was taped in 1960. The beauty of re-doing them live was that the cast and other details could be tweaked (watch the DVD of NBC's live "Babes in Toyland" and you'll see two successive productions by Max Leibman.)

Sure beats Honey Boo-Boo and the Dance Moms.

baylink said...

"The Rocky Horror Show", which of course preceded the film, has been touring for several years and done in rep, and had I think a successful Broadway stand as well...

Gregg B said...

I was so hoping Stephen Moyer was heading up a secret family of vampires that would have destroyed the Nazis. That would have ended all the snark.

Pat Reeder said...

To Chris and Cap'n Bob: I also saw "Sound of Music" with Hayley Mills in Dallas. I went expecting her to be a pretty lousy singer, but she surprised me with how well she did. Not once did she break out singing, "Let's Get Together (Yeah, Yeah Yeah!)" As others have pointed out, it helps that Mrs. Anna's songs were written for Gertrude Lawrence's limited range. A mediocre singer can sound good on them, and a great singer can make them soar. My wife, Laura Ainsworth, is a terrific singer (click the link from my name to see what I mean), and she's played Mrs. Anna in one production and the #1 wife who sings "Something Wonderful" in another, so I've heard that in person.

With a wife who is a singer/actress, we have lots of friends in the DFW theater community. I don't even particularly care for "SOM," but somehow, I've seen it dozens of times, including a production with full orchestra and original score about three months ago. So it never occurred to me that people would carp about this not being like the movie. What a stupid complaint. A critic for Time magazine actually bitched about them "changing" the running order of the songs and the staging from the movie. Why, they even dropped the puppet show during "The Lonely Goatherd!" I think Time needs to hire a new critic who knows her ass from her elbow.

As for Carrie Underwood, I've never been a fan (I prefer real country singers like Lacy J. Dalton), but I admire her more than before, just for having the guts to make her "acting" debut on live network TV. Besides, having seen many Texas community theater productions of this show, I just assumed that all Marias had Oklahoma accents.

Anonymous said...

This stole the thunder from Psych The Musical.

I hear NBC is working on a Live Cheers The Musical.

Ted Danson is played by Adam Lambert.