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December 10, 2013

Sound of Music 1a

Last Thursday, NBC presented a live production of the classic musical The Sound of Music, with Carrie Underwood as its star Maria.

Mark McClain Wilson maintains that while The Sound of Music Live! was not nearly as disastrous as the screaming hoard made it out to be, it certainly was not great…  Just not the train wreck as professed.

Here’s why:

Carrie Underwood is a fine country singer, but she simply can’t act. Beyond that, she just doesn’t have that natural luminosity, joy, and magic that this role demands. Maria is like the ‘Hamlet’ of Musical Theatre (slight exaggeration, but you get my meaning). Bottom line—it takes chops. But really, did anyone truly think she’d stick this landing? To those readers who grew up watching this movie, could anyone really ever measure up to Julie Andrews? Not to mention, you throw the guppy in the deep end of the pool with the great white shark of Audra McDonald.

Casting fail, NBC.

Frankly, though, while I certainly didn’t think she succeeded, I thought Underwood gave it a good shot. But if I had been in that meeting where the casting of Carrie Underwood had been put on the table, I would have given the exec who made the suggestion a high five. In the face. With a chair.

While we’re on casting, a note to all television and film casting directors of musical theatre film translations: it oh so very much saddens me that producers don’t think the musical alone will sell, but that it needs that added push of star power. I know this will not change, and it’s here to stay, blah, blah, blah, but seriously, producers? Casting directors? It’s not an episode of The Voice. It’s not karaoke. It’s musical… theater. There’s a reason why the supremely talented ATHLETES who do Broadway are called ‘triple threats,’ because to make a musical work, you need all three elements.

It takes a load of talent to make these complicated productions work the way they’re supposed to, and when they do work, it can be magical. When you put in people you’re your cast who are out of their league, it’s pleasant, at best. How depressing is ‘pleasant’ when you can have ‘magical’? I know the bottom line is just selling aspirin, tires, and bran flakes, but I truly don’t think you have to sacrifice sales for excellence. I really don’t. Nor do I think excellence is an idealistic, pie in the sky notion. I think it’s good business to aim a little higher. Why can you not just trust that?

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Here’s another important point: The Sound of Music did not become a jewel in the crown of our most beloved cultural icons by having a star at the helm. It’s lodged in our collective souls, because Julie Andrews was a brilliant performer; because she had the training and the chops and because she was a creature of the theatre. Watching this thing, I could easily name about five or six women I went to school with who could’ve made that production soar. God knows how many brilliant women from the Broadway stage could have given that show the charge it deserved. And people would have watched and been truly moved, rather than having the experience that I’m sure most Americans had: enjoying it well enough and certainly loving the music, but not being wowed. They don’t know how much better it can be, simply because y’all are a bunch of pussies and don’t trust the work and the talent to bring in the audience. Sad, truly, and actually, pathetic. And in this instance, misguided. People will watch the Sound of Music because it’s the frickin’ Sound of Music, so why not give it to them in a manner it was intended, where it can really enter some souls and raise some goose bumps?

Okay, I’ll admit, truly, that I’m an idealist, but I don’t think it’s a pie in the sky idea that if networks made a conscious decision to sell talent, the public would buy. Marketing is everything. And if the marketing is right, people will buy anything. The problem is that networks and suits are pussies. They want what’s easy, safe, and guaranteed. That is to say, they don’t wanna work. They’re lazy. It’s sad, because I know in my gut it doesn’t have to be this way. The Weinsteins, for example, have bucked the trend for twenty years now by putting money behind talent, and they’re still standing quite tall.

This was the first time I’ve actually seen the stage version and I was surprised by how much Max and Fraulein Schneider get screwed in the movie version. Two songs cut. Damn! Speaking of Fraulein Schneider, she’s a much bigger bitch in the movie…

I hope the ratings were huge. More live theatre on TV, please.

So, “I Have Confidence” was just a little ditty they whipped together for the film version? Sweet Jeebus, Rodgers and Hammerstein were brilliant.

Yes, it looked like the set of Days of Our Lives. It’s a sound stage, what’re ya gonna do? The lighting issues bugged me a lot more than the sound problems.

Frankly, I thought the biggest travesty of the evening was that bizarre Sound of Music Walmart ad series with the weird family of 600. Then again… it’s Walmart.

Sound of Music 3aFinally:  I know it’s all about the bottom line, it always is, but listen, America watches what the monsters tell them to watch. With another musical perhaps (let’s say, Camelot) I agree that ratings may not been as strong with an unknown, but The Sound of Music is a movie they air every year at the holiday. The musical, itself, is what people hold dear (and Julie Andrews, of course) so I genuinely think that even with an unknown, talented, Broadway star, they could’ve racked up ratings. Also, remember, the only thing America enjoys more than a star is discovering a star. Hell, that’s the entire basis of the long-running hit TV show American Idol.

 

 

 

 

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