SOUND OFF: THE SOUND OF MUSIC Live On NBC Is Dynamically Divine
Today we are highlighting a few of the many memorable moments on last night's unprecedented live TV broadcast of Rodgers & Hammerstein's THE SOUND OF MUSIC, starring Carrie Underwood - Carrie's own simply tremendous star-turn through to Audra McDonald's awe-inspiring "Climb Ev'ry Mountain", Laura Benanti's inspired Baroness and a tear-jerking Stephen Moyer and collective clan, plus more.
How Do You Hold A Moonbeam In Your Hand?
Clean and bright, the hotly anticipated and eagle-eyed by naysayers live NBC telecast of Rodgers & Hammerstein's classic family-friendly musical THE SOUND OF MUSIC was a stunning success beyond nearly any measure - a literal, musical and actual realization of the classic "Maria" song lyric, "How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?" Exceptional in every way. Remarkable.
Even... dare I say it? Divine.
Of course, Rodgers & Hammerstein's CINDERELLA was the last live TV musical of this kind, 50 years ago, and this is a much more complex and fully-realized production for a much different audience with wildly different expectations, after all. Played on four soundstages on Long Island, THE SOUND OF MUSIC was directed and choreographed for the stage by Broadway stalwart Rob Ashford, with TV direction by Beth McCarthy-Miller. To say that it was an accomplishment to take two directors instead of ten to take on this incredible undertaking would be a vast understatement - it was a monster and they made it magic.
Oh, yes - no hyperbole here, moments like "My Favorite Things", Maria's re-entrance to the nunnery and the ensuing "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" and the spine-tingling "Edelweiss" and following finale scene were just a few of the many absolutely Unforgettable treasures in the simply sensational telecast.
So, what can really be said, if we're being totally honest about it? It was perfect. No, no - this was not a filmed stage production in any way; this was a musical created for television. Each and every cast-member, crew member and creative team collaborator converged to create something truly special for our explicit enjoyment - and, now, the applauds are overwhelmingly deserved. This is an achievement unlike anything recently seen onstage or onscreen. Where to begin? Where to end? Well, to start somewhere...
First and foremost, Carrie Underwood was, in a word, a revelation. While skeptics have been critical and downright vicious on social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook regarding her casting and characterization of Maria Von Trapp - many to be found right here on this very site - and how she should, would, could or will measure up to the iconic portrayal of the part in the peerless 1965 film adaptation directed by Robert Wise and starring Julie Andrews, there is no denying Underwood made it her own. And, her own was something truly commendable and commanding - a vocal tour de force. "The Sound Of Music" was crisp and invigorating, while "Do-Re-Mi" was enviably flawless and "The Lonely Goatherd" perhaps her vocal highlight of all. "Something Good" was, well, great. Then, too, "My Favorite Things" and its insinuating reprise offered musical majesties of mentionable accord, as well.
On that note, Audra McDonald very well near stole the show, all considered. To say "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" was a substantial knock-out would be to undervalue the sheer wattage of this musical mega-star - a supernova. Without jinxing anything, this is the sort of performance awards are made of - and, as Broadway babies well know, this five-time Tony Award-winner is more than merely familiar with shiny statuettes that look good on her mantle. While those only familiar with the film may forget, the Mother Abbess is a dominant figure in the musical version, presiding over four major musical numbers as well as the rapturous wedding sequence, showcasing the clever and magnificent choral reworking of the early comic ditty "Maria". "Preludium" - including the very first notes of the musical telecast itself, natch - through to "Maria" with her fellow sisters, "My Favorite Things" with Maria and the aforementioned resplendent "Climb Ev'ry Mountain", as well as the rest of her book scenes and character moments, all add up to an awesome, totally fresh realization. Brava.
Similarly, Laura Benanti breathed fresh life into the role of Baroness Elsa Shraeder. Imbuing the elegant and aloof socialite and businesswoman with palpable warmth and a sex kitten-ish disposition made for an enticing amusement and an intriguing breath of fresh air whenever she appeared - with the reliably superb Benanti exacting a pristine portrayal of a tricky and tough-to-pull-off featured role, succeeding in ultimately affording her humanity and understnading sympathy, all told. Yet, for those paying close attention, and much like with McDonald, she made many of the limitations of the role her asset - not to the abbey, in this case, of course, but the manor. "Diesel yachts," indeed!
Speaking of which, the two comic character numbers for Elsa, Max Detweiler (Christian Borle) and Captain Von Trapp (Stephen Moyer) himself were among the many spotlight-worthy showpieces on display on the three-hour spectacular, too - an erudite, affable and endearing reading of the smugly comic "How Can Love Survive?" - with a notably adorable, lively staging - and a propulsive, inciting and off-putting-ly energetic reading of the politically darkly-shaded jaunt "No Way To Stop It". Unquestionably, the darker tones of the Nazi movement were attended to fully here, expanding upon and delving deeper into the world of Vienna, Germany and the Anschluss itself occurring at the time than the film adaptation and many stage versions themelselves.
Furthermore, the featured players abetted themselves as well as the stars, with "Sixteen Going On Seventeen" a standout, in no small part due to the persuasive charms of an attractive Rolf (Michael Campayno) and Liesl (Ariane Rinehart). Comparably, the Von Trapp children shone throughout, with each and every one of them making a mark over the course of the show - Sophia Caruso, Peyton Ella, Michael Nigro, Joe West, Grace Rundhaug, Ella Watts-Gorman and the aforementioned Rinehart. So, too, did the nuns soar in their specific scenes, with many a familiar musical theatre face populating the corps - Christiane Noll, Jessica Molasky, Ashley Brown, Elena Shaddow, Georgia Stitt, Linda Mugleston and more. Sensational sisters, all.
Perhaps the most tear-jerking moments of the night resided with Captain Von Trapp and Stephen Moyer sensitively milked them for their emotional and dramatic mother's load of milk - virtual manna from heaven itself, in this case, to stay godly about it. Case in point: the set-up of "The Sound Of Music (Reprise)" with an iceberg cracking before our eyes, ice queen Elsa in the direct background, flanked by the angelic choir of children and Mary-esque Maria herself. A superlative still-frame shot in a veritable coffee table book of excellent, dynamic shots, scenes and sequences.
Another? "Edelweiss" and the ensuing ending of the musical was as emotionally gripping, dramatically absorbing and musically majestic as the rest of the entire enterprise. Masterful.
Cutting to the chase, THE SOUND OF MUSIC live on NBC far exceeded expectations and made a vintage musical feel real, relatable, viable and alive again for a 2013 audience - virtually everything worked. Sure, a few boom mics and camera shadows were visible, a few lines were flubbed, the faux marble ledge jiggled when Elsa set her champagne glass on it and Maria may have stumbled during the title song - to great effect, no less, in the latter case (someone up there must have liked this) - but, so what?! Nevertheless, whatever the recipe, if this sort of thing is repeat-able in any way, please, TV and theatre gods, let it happen again - preferably next year at this time, if not sooner.
So, what would you like to see next? DAMN YANKEES? SWEET CHARITY? SOUTH PACIFIC? THE KING & I? GUYS & DOLLS? THE WIZ? PIPPIN? The potential properties worthy and waiting for a treatment as loving, attentive, attention-grabbing and simply divine as THE SOUND OF MUSIC is nearly innumerable, so whatever producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron have in mind next is something worth anticipating, particularly if it is a spectacular event on this lavish of a scale.
How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand? Ask the team behind NBC's THE SOUND OF MUSIC.
Photo Credits: NBC