Review: The Sound of Music Live on NBC
Let’s cut to the chase: If you missed it and wonder if it’s a good buy for family viewing, the answer is yes: a thumbs’s up for the NBC live broadcast of The Sound of Music.
Does it rival the famous Julie Andrews film version? No. First, it’s based on the stage play, so songs and numbers from the film are missing and songs and numbers missing from the film are present. And the lavish film budget (and Austrian locale) allowed for much more than even a generous TV budget and limited sets make possible.
And then of course there are the leads: Carrie Underwood is competent, though her singing talent far outshines her acting ability. But then, it’s hard to measure up to Julie Andrews for either. Stephen Moyer as Capt. von Trapp was likewise solid, though women are not going to be falling in love with him decades from now (or, for that matter, now) the way they still do with Christopher Plummer’s much dreamier Georg. He has little personality and no charisma, and is far too young to be the war hero father of seven.
That said, the production is pleasant, the children are lively and talented, and the story is suitably inspiring. The NBC version is every bit as good as a good stage version, which is saying a lot for television musicals lately. (Remember the excruciating Mrs. Santa Claus with Angela Lansbury? The listless Music Man with Matthew Broderick and the inexplicably ubiquitous, colorless Victor Garber? I didn’t think so.) But it’s a little disappointing that with all the talent in Hollywood at their disposal, NBC couldn’t come up with a cast better than one you could find at any regional theater.
Audra McDonald as the Mother Abbess is the exception. Though she looks nothing like an Austrian abbess, she outshown every other cast member in acting as well as singing and was the stand-out performer of the evening. Her version of “Climb Every Mountain” was easily the best song in the show.
Down to details
The plot is better in some ways than the movie version, worse in others. Laura Benanti as a knockout Baroness Schrader (that black party dress!!!!) is both more and less likeable than Eleanor Parker in the Julie Andrews version. As she makes it clear that she is going to go along with the Nazis if they take over, it’s hard to care about her — something the far more devious Parker Baroness managed to make happen in the film version. She played dirty but she really did love Georg! Laura Bananti’s Baroness? Not so much.
Then (spoiler alert) Capt. von Trapp and Maria get engaged. Immediately. It’s a little startling, but just go with it for the sake of getting to the rest of the story.
It’s great to see the Catholic Church treated so well and the Mother Abbess be one of the heroes. When she tells Maria the convent walls aren’t meant to be an escape from problems, you believe it.
Carrie Underwood gets better as the show goes on. Audra McDonald’s “Climb Every Mountain” has her in real tears, and she’s suitably tough fighting against the Nazis for her adopted children. She seems unable to manage a fresh out of the convent Maria who is both pious and spunky, so early on she goes overboard with pious. And really, “Raindrops on Roses” is not THAT good a song. Do we have to hear it so many times? Oscar and Hammerstein may have written it that way, but still. The movie got that one right.
Now to the wedding. In some ways, for women viewers, the movie is is really over at the wedding. Please believe me, if you’re a man and/or a producer, the wedding is a BIG DEAL. Our little Maria is all grown up! There’s no way, of course, to replicate the splendor of the movie’s wedding scene sans Salzburg’s cathedral and the brilliant film crew. In the NBC version, all the cloistered nuns are out of the cloister — and the only people in the church — for the wedding of one of Salzburg’s most prominent citizens. We’ll give that a pass, as they had to manage the extras, costumes, and sets, and that probably worked the best logistically. But Maria’s wedding dress? Really. She had to change very quickly so that probably accounts for how badly it fit, but if one detail should have gotten more attention, that was it, as millions of disappointed women and little girls will attest.
Enough complaining. Turning the production into a live performance was a successful feat that was a lot of fun to watch. “Somewhere in my Wicked Childhood” was better in the NBC show than in the Julie Andrews movie, where it goes on foreeeeeeever. The sets were very clever, especially the ones that opened in to each other. I was especially enchanted with the scene toward the end when (spoiler alert) the Nazi commander tells Capt. von Trapp, just home from his honeymoon, that he has come to collect him that moment to serve in the German Navy. Maria and the children appear, wearing their Austrian folk costumes, and Maria says that he has to sing at the folk festival in two days. The Nazi commander insists that he sing with the family now, to prove that he is really part of the group. Georg puts on his folk jacket and the whole family sings as the walk across the room, through a door — and onto the folk festival stage, which is draped in Nazi flags.
I got a thrill from that, and again when the family is being searched for in the convent graveyard. (One last spolier alert): Rolf, gun in hand, shines a flashlight on a stricken Maria holding the youngest child, and then Georg leaps in front of them. They weren’t my ideal couple, but at that moment my heart was in my mouth. They captured a primal moment: a man protecting his wife and child. For me that small moment was a highlight of the show.
A television show in which a man leaps in front of his wife to protect her from an armed soldier. A television show full of nuns praying and crossing themselves at every possible moment. A television show about patriotism and sacrifice for freedom. Yes. It’s worth buying.
Will it replace the Julie Andrews version as a timeless classic? No, and that’s a shame, because with better casting (particularly Capt. von Trapp) NBC could have made a bid for it. But if you want a stocking stuffer, a contemporary musical production the whole family can enjoy, a gift you can give nearly anyone without worries — then get out your credit card.
The Sound of Music Live on NBC will be available on video and CD this week everywhere.
Later this week on The Catholic Beat, we’ll be giving away a copy of the the album along with a t-shirt and poster. Check back for details!
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