I can’t be kind. I refuse to let NBC and the producers of their seriously flawed although valiant attempt to bring a new generation the venerable The Sound of Music off the hook. Because what ultimately did the production in, and is the bane of not only television but now movies, the publishing industry, and my beloved radio as well, was the very worst that has become our entertainment business: The bean counters making impresarios choose money over art, indubitably always the wrong choice.
The failure of the effort of NBC’s production of The Sound of Music began and ended with the casting of Carrie Underwood as Maria Von Trapp. While there were a host of young actresses from the Broadway stage and maybe even some Hollywood actresses who could have been cast in the role, or some unknown (imagine a search for the new Maria Von Trapp as Selznick did to find Scarlet O’Hara, what fun and publicity!), this otherwise darn good production of the Rogers and Hammerstein classic was doomed the day Carrie Underwood was cast in to play Maria Von Trapp.
And that is too bad because in every other way the Storyline Entertainment in association with Sony Pictures Television and Universal Television, Executive producers, Neil Meron, Craig Zadan; producer, Priscilla Taussig; directors, Beth McCarthy-Miller, Rob Ashford production was really quite well executed.
So, why, out of a wide range of actresses who could have been cast in the revered role of Maria Von Trapp did the producers choose Carrie Underwood? You can be sure that the networks and the producers were looking for a known name with a broad appeal who they felt sure could bring in the ratings. That was the reason and the only reason that Carrie Underwood, the American Idol winner, the poster child of country twang, the darling of Middle America was given the role. Her talent, and in this case, her utter lack of acting ability, had little if anything to do with her casting.
Did anyone bother asking her to audition? Surely they discovered, as we the audience did in the first seconds of Thursday night’s live production, that while Carrie Underwood can sing, if only adequately, she simply and inarguably cannot talk. Or is that yodel? Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo!
Even the dazzling Audra McDonald while brilliant in her role as the Mother Superior was forced almost into soliloquy because she had nothing to bounce off with Carrie Underwood as the young conflicted postulant.
And poor Stephen Moyer who had a surprisingly engaging singing voice was left holding the bag as well. What would have saved his performance might have been an authentic moment with his leading lady, but from Underwood, Captain Von Trapp received merely Betty Boop adoring eyes, leaving Moyer to offer nothing in return but pursed lips, perhaps at his co-star’s lackluster performance. Not surprisingly, the pursed lips disappeared when Moyer had an adequate co-star. Seasoned Broadway actress Laura Benanti was fun as the Baroness Schrader and Broadway icon Christian Borle as Max Detweiler was equally engaging, although neither measured up to their film predecessors the alluring Eleanor Parker and the comedic Richard Haydn.
Some lines from the film version can never be forgotten, as when Max asks Maria to talk sense into the patriotic, Nazi-defying Captain Von Trapp, and Maria answers: “I can’t ask (Georg) to be less than he is,” the moment we understand the true love Maria has for her Captain, and the moment Maria actually leaves the convent behind and takes on her role as the matriarch of the Von Trapp family, a moment in the NBC production, lost in the lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo, or is that hee haw of Underwood’s sorry performance?
There were a couple of other problems with the production: A really bad background screen of the Austrian Alps, costumes that didn’t fit quite right, particularly Maria’s wedding dress. The lighting was problematic for this viewer as well, often too dark, or perhaps the cast missed their marks. The camera, particularly in the beginning was dancing around too much, but seemed to settle along the way. And why didn’t any of the children have blonde hair? They seemed not Austrian enough, but forgivable because the children were wonderful, truly brown paper packages tied up with strings.
But where oh where was the famous Gazebo in 16 Going on Seventeen? That might have been something good.
Let it be said, that however imperfect this production of The Sound of Music was, let’s hope that this is the beginning of a new age for the broadcast networks with more live theatre in production to be brought to the masses. Aplause! Applause! Applause! to NBC for trying.
But back to the beginning, yes, let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. When you read you begin with A-B-C, when you produce, whether a telecast, a Broadway show, a radio show, a Hollywood film, whichever, art and talent should always be sacrosanct. In the Golden Days of Television, talent was the value that brought in the bucks, something to remember and as simple a concept as A-B-C or is that Do Re Me?
Halli Casser-Jayne is the host of The Halli Casser-Jayne Show, Talk Radio for Fine Minds which airs Wednesdays 3 pm ONLINE @ http://bit.ly/U4EEMd. Halli is the author of A Year in My Pajamas with President Obama, The Politics of Strange Bedfellows and the author of the upcoming “Scout Finch’s Diary.”