On NBC's "The Sound of Music - Live!"
Facebook, last night, was all a-twitter with comments about NBC's live staging\broadcast of the ever-famous musical classic "The Sound of Music". People live-posted scathing reviews of Carrie Underwood as Maria. People preached their gratitude to NBC for introducing America's newest generation to live theater. I'm relatively certain that there were office pools created based on the number of catastrophes which could have happened during such a daring broadcast... Will Maria trip? Will Kurt's voice break? Will Mother Superior's cell phone ring?
That's the beauty of live theater.... And that's what this was. This wasn't a movie. This wasn't a re-creation of the original film starring Julie Andrews. It wasn't on the table - ever. Moving on.
This cast and production crew rehearsed for months - as any theater company will do when putting on a show. This one just happened to be televised - live. In theater, there are no re-takes. Most theater companies, however, could only dream of having the fantastic sets NBC's team had.
As anyone who has ever performed on stage will tell you, the cast of performers feel (and feed off of) the energy from the audience. Last night's cast was at a huge disadvantage in this way. There was no applause at the end of each number. The cast was called upon to be hybrid actors. Perform on stage for the cameras -- as if it were for an audience. For Christian Borle's 'Max', this was a no-brainer. (And perhaps for others?) He has been on stage and screen many times. While I found him lacking the 'sleazy' aspect his counterpart had in the original film (I know... I know... my bad), he seemed comfortable in his role.
The cast, with a few exceptions, read to me like a very very nicely performed regional theater production of the show. I was really hoping to be floored by the performances, but I just wasn't. This fact, however, didn't make the show any less enjoyable.
Surprisingly, there were very few noticeable glitches. There were, perhaps, three moments when a jib camera threw a shadow on the stage. (A problem one needn't worry about in live theater). The audio, overall, was very well done.. a few blips here and there, but nothing major. I would have liked to have had a few of the soloists' microphones turned up during group numbers. There were times when I couldn't understand the words - namely on the songs which were not in the original movie. The lighting was beautiful - but not quite perfect. We saw a few 'bumps' which lead to noticable lighting changes , as if someone missed their cue.
Out of everything, my biggest complaint would be the modern gestures and physical nuances which were allowed to exist in the production - which could arguably be called a 'period piece'. I could have sworn one of the Von Trapp children was fist-pumping in a moment of celebration. Even Audra McDonald - social media's darling of the evening - had some subtle attitude-driven neck rolls as Mother Superior. When creating a world containing words like 'Herr' and 'Fraulein', one must be aware of the time and place in which you're living. There was, however, no twerking, so I'll call it a win.
Last night was a tremendous undertaking. I'd wager that 70% of the choreography for the show was not even seen. It wasn't meant to be seen. The production team juggled set pieces, multiple costume changes (with hair and makeup), lighting, cameras, who the heck has mic 23?, we've got 30 seconds!, do you smell smoke?, real candles, orchestra cue 17 GO!... I mean 18!.. And so on... America witnessed a true collaboration of technicians, designers, choreographers, wranglers, builders, lighting and audio designers, staging directors, broadcast directors --- all in sync to the second - frantically changing the face of Austria while we're running to the fridge and\or bathroom during commercial breaks. This was a marvelous achievement, but no on talks about it.
While I do wish NBC had done a more thorough casting process, I'd call the show a success. The American public was re-introduced to live theater in an all-new way. Those who work or have worked in theater, understandably, are a bit more critical of the performance.... but the show served its purpose. I believe it was intended to provide a 'family' evening of entertainment... to allow us to enjoy a moment in time where in even the more dire situations (like Nazi invasion), love, joy, and laughter can still exist.
My brother posted this about his experience:
"Enjoying the live performance of "The Sound of Music" on the couch with Liz and the kids. I can't remember the last time we all watched the same show together, quietly, without complaint. Great family moment!"
Congratulations NBC! Well done.