Friday, December 6, 2013

The Sound of Music LIVE! (2013)

On Thursday, December 5, NBC aired a special live production of the classic musical The Sound of Music. Though I’m fortunate to have seen this remake, prior to its advent I was rather reserved. After all, can any reproduction ever aspire to the stunning soprano of Julie Andrews, or top Christopher Plummer’s flawless interpretation of Georg von Trapp in the 1965 film?

Let’s begin with a disclaimer. If you’ve followed my blog for some time, you know me as a sometimes-silly, sometimes-serious, tending-to-be-very-critical book reviewer, writer, and “fashionista.” This is, yes, my first attempt at reviewing a play or movie, so I am certainly not adept at it. I apologize if anything that I say annoys you. You are welcome to disagree with me in the comments below, but remember that any blatantly rude comments will be automatically deleted.
It was in August that I first found out about this remake from the very talented reviewer Rissi. I was very disappointed to hear that Carrie Underwood had been cast in the role of Maria, for though I hadn’t heard many of her songs and hadn’t seen anything in which she’d acted, the very fact that she was a country artist repelled me. I said thus on the subject in August: “I’m not a Carrie Underwood fan. . . . In my own opinion, she just doesn’t have the voice needed to play Maria. You need a voice like Julie Andrews’s: clean, operatic soprano with none of the ‘modern sound’ in it.” As for the remainder of the cast, I had never heard of any of them.

This stage production was not supposed to be a reinvention of the 1965 film, but rather a remake of the original Broadway musical. Therefore, we get introduced to some new songs sung by Frau Schrader, Herr Dettweiler, and Captain von Trapp. I didn’t mind these additions, though the “misplacement” of the scenes (according to the movie), the swiftly-moving relationship between the Captain and Maria, and the general lack of the ’65 movie turned me off. (Where did I Have Confidence go??) I fully admit that I’m being narrow-minded, so please don’t move right on to the comments after the last sentence and voice your irritation without having read this sentence.

Well, I do have to come to it sometime. Carrie Underwood as Maria. Where to start? Her voice, her acting, both? Let’s get this out of the way: Carrie has an exceptional voice with a to-die-for vocal range.

But an exceptional voice is not enough for Maria.

Despite some opinions that there was no “country twang” in Carrie’s voice, I disagree that she completely eliminated all the “modern” tone. And I also know that since this is a 2013 production and not a 1959 production, some might expect more “modern” classical voices to adorn the stage. But no. Of the adults in the production, Carrie’s voice as Maria was the only one ripe with the provocative “female power” so common among women singers today. That is why selecting a country artist to sing as Maria was a mistake. Carrie’s use of dynamics is almost exclusively forte and fortissimo, rarely falling into mezzo-piano or piano. I shouldn’t compare Carrie to Julie, so I will refrain in this instance—though it’s extremely hard to do so. Maria is not an incredibly confident person, though she does have a brazen temper which makes her confident in certain situations. Yes, Maria became more confident when she sang, but she was also fully aware of the beauty of her songs and that they didn’t have to be powered out like a Clydesdale pulling the Budweiser wagon. They could be soft lullabies or startlingly dramatic. And she knew it. She knew the power—not the depth, not the loudness, but the ability to move oneself—of vocals. And Carrie Underwood didn’t exhibit this knowledge in this production.

As an actress, also, Carrie fell incredibly flat, so much so that I almost couldn’t even see this musical as being about Maria. I do realize that she wouldn’t have wanted to copy every inflection Julie used, but her awkward intonations were such a bother! I nearly always preferred it when Carrie was off-screen.

As for the other characters, I found Frau Schrader’s actress to excellently interpret her slimy character—she leached even more sliminess into the role than Eleanor Parker did in 1965. I disliked the fact that they costumed her in trousers in the latter half of the play, but after mulling it over I realized that it was a great fit for her: women’s lib/money-sucker that she is. Herr Detweiler was also wonderful (though he came onto the stage looking just like a nerd)—selfish just like Frau Schrader with a heart buried deep inside that selfishness.

The von Trapp children were unextraordinary. Liesl, on whom most of the focus is given as the eldest—well, her voice isn’t bad, but it isn’t great either. Kurt, however, was very well-cast, with an extremely high voice perfect for his part. The young girl who played Gretel, however, is still growing into her voice, yet is unfortunately forcing too much unnatural sound into it. (Or that’s how it came across to me—she could just be struggling between two realms in her voice at the moment.)

The settings were mostly gorgeous, particularly the von Trapp house. The costuming seemed spot-on, except for Carrie’s wig, which was obviously fake, whereas Frau Schrader’s hair looked much more natural—slightly frizzy and just real. I disliked the “hill” where Maria sings the title track and also where Liesl and Rolfe share their “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” duet, their dance, and their first kiss. It was too dark there. The abbey, also, was very dark and gloomy.

You think I’m leaving someone out, don’t you?

That’s because I’m saving the best for last. . . . Smile

Who saved the day of the play was Stephen Moyer as Georg von Trapp. Handsome, enigmatic, afraid to love, and gifted with an angelic tenor voice, I could not be more satisfied with their casting of this man. I joked to Hallie before he sang “Edelweiss” near the end of the production, “I’ve been waiting for this the whole time.” When he began to sing, I realized that it was true. At first Stephen came across as stiff and awkward, but I realized later that this was probably an asset to his character, for at the beginning of the play Captain von Trapp isn’t a man who knows how to act around real people—he’s tried to convince himself that these “real people” can be treated like soldiers or like dogs. His transformation into a loving father with a bashful infatuation with Maria was cute; not quite Georg-like, nor as mature as it should have been, but I think I liked him all the more for it. No, he’ll never be the stern, subtly dangerous man Christopher Plummer played, but he was refreshing in a cast which seemed disappointingly full of amateurs.

If you watched this live performance, did you find Carrie Underwood a satisfactory replacement for Julie Andrews, or could you barely stand her? Are you an open-minded lover of remakes or more narrow-minded, like me, a lover of the glorious traditions?


  1. Well said.
    I do have one complaint though. If it's narrow-minded to think that Julie Andrews is the better Maria, would it be classifed "open-minded" to say that Carrie Underwood filled the role to perfection? Why? Because it doesn't stand with the tried and true? I think it wrong to suppose that only the revolutionary mindset is legitimate. I watched Julie in 1965, I watched Carrie in 2013, and I then formed my opinion based on the facts of what I saw. That is not narrow-mindedness; it's good sense, and everyone is entitled to that process of opinionmaking.
    So I hold my ground: Carrie Underwood is no Julie Andrews.

    1. No, I don't think it's more open-minded to stubbornly hold that Carrie is the best Maria ever and that no one will ever be better :) I am being narrow-minded, because I have no desire to accept anyone other than Julie Andrews. You weren't being narrow-minded with your approach however :)

  2. PS. "stern, subtly dangerous Christopher Plummer" <<< best description EVER.

    1. Thank you :) I was quite proud of that myself. Christopher Plummer as Captain von Trapp reminds me so much of Reuel that I can use the same descriptions for the both of them.

  3. I really liked the idea of The Sound of Music live, and really do hope that they will make more live musicals (though, ones hopefully better than this one). I would've been fine with the whole thing, if it weren't for Carrie Underwood.

    I am a big Carrie fan, but after seeing her in Soul Surfer, I've accepted the fact that she is not cut out for acting. She just seemed, to me, to be spitting out lines without a whole lot of (good) emotion, and as an actor myself, it annoyed the heck out of me. When I heard that she was to play Maria, I knew this would happen.

    Personally, I think they chose her as Maria for publicity, so that people besides a bunch of old people (and homeschoolers/ musical loving high schoolers ;) would watch the show.

    It was just Carrie and her inability to act well, and her singing voice, which, while beautiful in the country music setting, just couldn't handle the musical atmosphere.

    I agree with everything you said, and dearly hope that they will make more musicals, just with better casting.

    1. I totally agree with you. Sierra Boggess would have been a far better Maria (at least as a singer--I don't know if she has any acting skills) yet I don't think she's even a quarter as famous as Carrie, so they spurned the idea of a better singer for a more well-known one (though I don't know if Sierra was ever even considered for the part). And I too hope they do more musicals! All of these TV networks need some clean stuff on :)

      Thanks for commenting, Hannah!

  4. See, you did an fine job, Hannah! Well done! And, thanks for the shout-out. :)

    Sorry you didn't enjoy the majority of this production but I'm glad you wrote your honest thoughts in this review. In all honesty, I thought all of the acting was a bit stilted (this is just how stage is... it's all a bit "awkward" because of the placements and actors walking to marks, etc.) but of course, it's true to say Carrie doesn't have the acting talent as she does musical. Nonetheless, I thought she did a nice job and don't really see her as a "replacement" for Julie since this wasn't a proper re-make, and I am the sort of viewer who can separate this from the film - it was different (pacing, when events happened, etc.) however all in all, the production was very enjoyable. Plus surprisingly, as I said, Carrie did wonderful with the vocals. As for Stephen, I think him being stiff worked - Christopher Plummer played the role that way too. That's the character so it was appropriate. It's something I'll rewatch again and of course, I still love the '65 film. :)

    Thanks for sharing this - enjoyed reading it much-ly! :)

    1. Hi! I'm glad you enjoyed it :) That's a great point that "replacement" isn't the right word since it was a stage remake, not a movie remake. And also that everything was so stilted because it was on stage . . . I only really noticed Stephen Moyer's stiffness and, like you said, it was an asset for him because of his character.

      Thanks for commenting :)

  5. I really enjoyed reading your review, Hannah! I've been curious what other people thought of it... though personally, I watched the REAL Sound of Music this weekend in stubborn mutiny of the very idea that anything else could ever exist, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. ;) My thoughts when I first heard about Carrie Underwood as Maria were pretty identical to yours.


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