December 11, 2013

The Sound of Music Live! Review

When I heard that NBC was planning a live performance of The Sound of Music, I was like: 

And now that I've seen the whole special, had countless conversations with friends and on social media about it, and read some of the myriad scathing reviews, I'm exhausted. I feel like this:

Now, despite the gifs above, it's obviously not fair to compare NBC's "Live!" special to the classic movie. Rather, the Carrie Underwood fronted performance was true to the script of the original stage play. So to those of you complaining about added or missing songs, ease off a little. (And besides, did you really want to hear Carrie attempt "I Have Confidence"? Didn't think so.) 

That said, I'm not going to write anything more here about the acting or the singing, because all that needs to be said about those things has been said elsewhere. Instead, I want to respond to all my fellow musical theatre aficionados. 

Some are asking why NBC would even attempt this bound-to-fail endeavor. Others are just glad that live musical theatre was presented to a wider audience.

The Sound of Music Live! garnered harsh criticism before it even aired. And it begs the question why the network and producers would even try something that was sure to pale in comparison to the well-known and beloved movie. The answer is obvious - NBC, floundering as it is, needed the viewership boost. And when Wal-Mart sponsorship money is what you're after, quality falls by the wayside. So while there were aspects of the show that were very good, they were overshadowed by the very bad. Like the microphone problems, mismatched cast, and the obvious fact that the actors couldn't see the orchestra conductor (several songs contained blatant timing errors.) And when you want to get viewers, of course you'll cast the country superstar instead of a seasoned, tested Broadway performer. (Personally, I would have liked to see Megan Hilty cast alongside her fellow Smash alum Christian Borle. But she wouldn't have brought the viewers NBC needed.)

So no, I can't say I'm glad this is how NBC chose to present musical theatre to the public at large. Did we want to give the nation the impression that this is what theatre is? Did this special remotely do justice to the live musical theatre experience? Of course not. And that's because, aside from all the problems heretofore mentioned, a "live" production on television removes something that sets live theatre apart: the audience in the room. Stage plays and musicals are written to be complemented by the energy of a live audience. When you take that away, of course you are left with something stiff.

So stop blaming Carrie Underwood. And stop blaming "all those songs they added and changed." (They didn't.) The Sound of Music Live! faltered first and foremost because of its format. Everything else fell apart afterward. This isn't to say that televised musical theatre can't be well done. Check out the post in which I write about Live from Lincoln Center's production of Carousel to read about and watch Rodgers and Hammerstein done right. (And take note of the seats filled in the room.)

It doesn't matter how many viewers tuned in. The Sound of Music Live! was still missing an audience. 

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