Thursday, December 12, 2013

Laura Benanti and Christian Borle Steal the Show in THE SOUND OF MUSIC Live!

Last weekend, it was impossible to ignore the premiere of the live recording of The Sound of Music, starring Carrie Underwood, "The Sound of Music Live!" on NBC. Indeed, #SoundofMusicLive was in the top 5 trending topics in the USA on Twitter for over 24 hours! It also garnered record ratings (ratings=viewership) which were higher than some major sporting events in the past. I must admit, I was not expecting everyone and their grandmother to be watching it because 1) it's a musical, and 2) it's an old Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Since when has any of that been cool? Nevertheless, it seems that the Julie Andrews movie adaptation from 1965 was a big part of everyone's life at some point, and they were all determined to see Carrie Underwood ruin their childhood by not being Julie Andrews.

Given the ridiculously large number of viewers, it would be expected that from the time Ms. Underwood started singing to well into the next day, everyone would be Tweeting away and bashing the show. I expected to hear criticism primarily from the Broadway community and for everyone else to think it was fine, like what happened with Les Miserables. But with the weight the first movie held for everyone, there were several things about this show that the non-theatre viewers just hated. Admittedly, this Broadway blogger did use the word "sacrilege" to describe the casting of  the American Idol star in this iconic role, but I was willing to give her a chance.

I need to start by clarifying what this television event was and what it wasn't. It was not a remake of the Julie Andrews movie. Nobody would be stupid enough to actually do that. It was a live staging of the original Broadway version from 1959 starring Mary Martin. So actually, the 1965 Julie Andrews movie was a remake. In fact, "I Have Confidence" and "Something Good" were both added for the 1965 movie, while "How Can Love Survive?" and "No Way to Stop It" (or, as Anna Kendrick called it, the "What's the big deal about Nazis?" song) were left out.

Unfortunately, as everyone now knows, Carrie Underwood cannot act. There's no getting around that, but we all know she can sing, and for a show with this many songs, (she had about 10) she had a chance to at least slightly redeem herself. However, audience members were mostly upset simply over the fact that she wasn't Julie Andrews. I think had viewers accepted the show (and Ms. Underwood) for what it was and not compared it to anything else, they would have enjoyed it more.

But Stephen Moyer (of True Blood fame), who played Captain Von Trapp, was debatably worse. His singing was lacking to say the least, and he was very stiff and expressionless much of the time. Consequently, there was no chemistry between him and Ms. Underwood. Because of the awkward combination of these two actors, I found myself thinking that the Captain's breaking up with Elsa had nothing to do with his love for Maria, but was completely based on political disagreements.

Tony Award-winner Christian Borle (Peter and the Starcatcher) was wonderful as freeloader Uncle Max. He and fellow Tony Award-winner Laura Benanti (Gypsy), who played Elsa "The Baroness" Schrader, were a great team. Without a doubt, they stole the show. I was already looking forward to "How Can Love Survive?" and of course Mr. Borle and Ms. Benanti did not disappoint.

The most surprising thing about the event was how popular Ms. Benanti became. In the space of three hours, a self-proclaimed "betrayed" 18 million viewers turned to Ms. Benanti who was doing the opposite of Ms. Underwood by far exceeding expectations. Ms. Benanti brought charm to the role, which made her irresistible. Granted, whereas in the 1965 movie, Elsa was just this woman who ruined everyone's fun and dreams, the Broadway version makes her a bigger, more human role. Don't get me wrong, I love me some Laura Benanti, but I could not have foreseen her fame skyrocketing like it did.

"The Epic Shade"
And those children! The way they interacted made me believe they were real siblings, and their love for Maria/Ms. Underwood was almost contagious. From where I was sitting, I could almost see all the parents rejoicing over the commencement of their children's new musical careers as "Do Re Mi" finished.

Particularly, the soprano talent of Joe West, who played Kurt, was quite impressive. "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" was a beautiful, Underwood-free break. I was not a fan of the vocal talents of Liesl and Rolf (Charmian Carr and Daniel Truehitte) in the original movie, so hearing this clear, lovely rendition by Ariane Rhinehart and Michael Campayno was quite refreshing. Hear that? It's the sound of Rhinehart and Campayno's Broadway careers taking off.

The highlight of the night was when five-time Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald brought down the house with "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" at the end of the first act. Ms. Underwood herself was even in tears! I am at a loss to adequately describe the brilliance that is Ms. McDonald, but she perfectly conveyed her character: the Reverend Mother who has rules to follow but understands her ultimate goal is counseling a young girl and helping her find her true calling in life. Ms. McDonald was full of an honest grace which was unbelievably powerful.

Overall, I was so pleased with the ratings, which seem to indicate that Broadway is on the rise in popularity. Without a doubt, it was a triumph for the theatre world. The next question, of course is which musical will NBC do live next? I have some ideas, but what do you think? Bonus for including hypothetical casts.

Read More:
The original Sound of Music on Broadway
The Sound of Music Broadway revival, eventually starring Laura Benanti

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