Since “better late than never” is how I roll, I will belatedly jump into the fray of discussion on the recent NBC Live version of The Sound of Music. Not that my two cents is worth more than any of the other hundreds of dollars worth of opinion already out there, but…
First, the background: I love this musical. It is definitely a love based off of the movie, but I did not stop there. There was a copy of the stage musical with photos in my junior high school library. It was clearly a volume that predated the film. I checked it out three times in my junior high tenure. The last time it had been checked out was in 1972. And then there was the slightly less old, but still well before my time copy of the book on the actual, real life Von Trapp Family Singers. That one I very nearly stole from the library—and the only other person to have checked it out was my sixth grade English teacher—when she was in junior high. Add to this that I stopped counting the number of times I have watched the movie at 84. That was well over fifteen years ago. I assure you, we are talking well over 100 times I have seen this film. Possibly close to 200.
So was I going to watch Carrie Underwood take on the role of Maria in what was almost certain to be a car wreck? Hell, yes.
Was it a car wreck in my mind? Hell, yes.
To be perfectly fair, there were things that NBC got totally right. I applaud them for using the original stage method rather than the movie. That was kinda ballsy given that probably 90% of the viewers would only have ever seen the film version and may not even be aware that there was an alternate set up that predated the film they know and love. The minute Maria and the Mother Abbess started into “My Favorite Things” that early, I gave NBC props and wondered how many people were screaming at their TV.
They also did better in some areas with the costumes than in the film version. Let’s face it, I love that movie, but the styles portrayed on the characters are in no way accurate to the period the film is set in. Those sickening 60s colors, the cuts of the clothing…fabulous, but in no way accurate. This film made at least a passing attempt to get actual 30s period clothing involved. And the hair styles were closer as well. That said, they failed with Maria’s bedtime outfit. Seriously? What the fuck was that? At least film-Maria had the nun-decency to wear something plain to bed.
And before I fully segue into recounting the places where NBC did NOT get any points, let’s hit one more moderate compliment: The singing and orchestration wasn’t terrible. Carrie Underwood is not a bad singer, though I had had some fears that this would sound like a mash up with “Oklahoma”* going in. I love country, but I really don’t want my Austrians to be twangy (they should be British, of course). I cannot actually give a lot of props because the music didn’t blow me away.
Here endeth the good.
The acting was what killed this. I am not going to say that Carrie Underwood will never be an actress, I’m just going to say she had not had enough work at it before tackling this role. It was pretty sad. If people are going to put you in a dirndl and Heidi braids on a soundstage, you need to be armed with certain acting chops and have the ability to bring some facial funny. Home girl did not have this skill.
Even the kids—who should be the solid comic fall-back of any version of The Sound of Music—lacked. I actually found myself cringing at the child who has been my favorite forever—Louisa. Love Louisa, but in this rendition, she had weird murdered-Romanoff-princess hair and in no way made me think she could pull off anything evil. This Louisa would try to do something clever, but never be subtle about it. It was a blow that my poor, battered-and-mostly-sold-to-Disney childhood could barely take. It hurt doubly because, since this was the stage version, I was so stoked to hear one tiny scene I remembered reading back in junior high. In it Louisa remarks about the most beautiful woman at the parties they used to have when her mother was still alive…I remembered reading that and wishing the movie would have included it, because it added a whole new dimension to Louisa and made her even more awesome. I finally get the moment…And it flopped like a catfish flung up on the shoreline. Actually, not even like one that was just flung up. More like one that had been flung up about two hours earlier on a really hot and dry day.
I am, however, strangely relieved that NBC wants to do it again. I was worried it would tank so badly they would never attempt another live musical production. I do not want one bad attempt to ruin what might yield much better and more awesome performances. That said, I will be really, really wary of the next set of big names flung out at me. Though it can’t get worse than having my all-time favorite slapped out sub-par, that doesn’t mean I’m a glutton for repeated musical punishment by flat mediocrity.
*Sidenote: I would have had no fear had someone told me “Carrie Underwood is going to play Laurie in Oklahoma.” You cannot fuck up as Laurie because, to me, Laurie has always been the weakest link in that musical. I love Ado Annie, love Aunt Eller—who I am still holding out a dream of seeing played by Reba McEntire—but Laurie sucks.