Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Sound of Music Live!: A Hit!

Last updated 12/19/13.

A hit--at least for me.

For one thing this is the first time I've ever gotten to see a professional performance of "No Way to Stop It" which is one of my favorite Broadway songs both because it has such a great backwards message and is so singable. Before this I could only imagine what was going on when Theodore Bikel, Karl Kasznar and Marion Marlowe were singing it on my Broadway cast album from the late '50s/early '60s.

(with Stephen Moyer in this song is Laura Benanti and Christian Borle)

After watching The Sound of Music Live! from about the halfway point on television this last weekend, and all through today via the NBC online link, the whole cast is growing on me.

Audra McDonald blew me away in "Climb Every Mountain". I actually applauded after her performance. But, at first I thought Carrie Underwood and Stephen Moyer were slightly wooden. Now I am coming to appreciate their performances. [Update: Indeed, Underwood's tinge of seriousness or reticence in the beginning dovetails perfectly with Maria's transformation to a serious, quick thinking diplomat at the end of the story when she deflects the Nazi demand that the Captain immediately report for duty and supports and encourages the Captain that they can make it over the mountains with the children. Underwood's slight wooden seriousness lays the groundwork for the improbably demur, quiet, thoughtful Maria at the end of the movie.

Underwood's Maria is less joyful and exuberant than Julie Andrews' Maria and has a streak of seriousness that is clear from the beginning. Since Maria is both joyfully spirited and thoughtfully serious, the different blend the two actresses give is intriguing. I had never really thought about the improbability of Maria's transformation in The Sound of Music before comparing Andrews' performance to Underwood's.

Oh, and as for singing quality: that Underwood goes toe-to-toe with McDonald in the "My Favorite Things" duet and comes out nicely shows that her first-rate singing talent transfers to Broadway seamlessly.]

It's super hard to compete against Julie Andrews. She was a one-off great. But, if you take another great, Ethel Merman, she wasn't terrific at acting, but could belt out a song like no one else. It was magical to hear her sing. Who cared about her acting?

Underwood and Moyer are pleasing enough in both acting and singing. Maybe in the ballpark with Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel. I only saw Martin as Peter Pan on television, and she was good, but not one-off great. Underwood and Moyer are also in the ballpark with Christopher Plummer (especially given that Plummer was dubbed because his voice* wasn't up to Julie Andrews' quality).

It's hard (and maybe not fair) to compare a movie or even a Broadway stage play with a one time live performance. No retakes** as in the movies and no performance after performance to hone one's character and presentation as in a Broadway play.

I give this not only a one time viewing thumbs up, but I think I'll buy the dvd and watch it at least another few times--though probably not as much as I've watched Julie Andrews' Sound of Music. [Update: Then again, the stunning visual quality of high-definition, makes Live! so much easier on the eyes even though the video is of sets rather than real mountains, fountains and houses as in the movie.  I already like watching the singing episodes better.]

Thanks to Carrie Underwood, Stephen Moyer and the rest of the cast for making a fun, uplifting performance that has some serious subject undertones and giving us the pleasure of Rodgers and Hammerstein again.
*An audio tape of Plummer singing Eidelweiss was dubbed on to the movie scene in this version. So, you can hear how his actual singing voice would have sounded in the movie.

**Maybe this is reflected in versions of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella. In terms of Cinderella performances, Julie Andrews' one time live performance did not seem to me quite as good as Lesley Ann Warren's movie version. In terms of singing, Warren's "My Own Little Corner" seems the more haunting and textured of the two.

UPDATE: I couldn't resist another song:

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