The Sound of Music Live on NBC – Will Carrie Underwood pull it off?

Carrie Underwood stars in live stage performance of “The Sound of Music.” Photo: Sound of Music

WASHINGTON, December 5, 2013 –Tonight, NBC will boldly go where no network has gone before when it airs a live stage version of “The Sound of Music.” It is hard to imagine that any network head would have the audacity to assume he could improve upon this timeless family classic. But never underestimate the hubris of Hollywood. Or TV’s net-heads for that matter.

With regard to the original, not only does “The Sound of Music” rank No. 55 on the American Film Institute’s list of all time best movies. It ranks higher on several other notable compilations as well. The film was so well received when it was released in 1965 that it passed “Gone With the Wind” as the number one box office hit at the time.

When the movie version of “The Sound of Music” was made, it was the product of the best and brightest that Hollywood had to offer. The original film was based, of course, on the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II 1959 hit Broadway stage musical. Not only did that musical boast a phenomenal 1443 performances during its run. It also copped the Tony Award that year for Best Musical.

Arguably the best Broadway team to ever put music and lyrics to paper, Rogers and Hammerstein had already compiled an enviable list of still-popular, classic musicals including “Oklahoma,” “Carousel,” “South Pacific,” “The King and I” and “Cinderella”—the only musical they ever wrote specifically for television—before working together one last time to make “The Sound of Music.”

The star of the film version of the show was the previous year’s Best Actress Academy Award winner, fresh-faced Julie Andrews. She was already enormously popular due to her smash hit performance as an eccentric but warm-hearted British governess in the Disney Studio’s 1964 “Mary Poppins.” And in a way, her role as Maria in “The Sound of Music” provided her with a similar character to develop.

The second star of the original film was the glorious Austrian countryside in which it was filmed. When Andrews sang “The hills are alive with the sound of music,” the audience was treated to a beautifully executed song made even more visually brilliant by the breathtaking zoom-away mountain backdrop we have come to identify with the film.

The stage musical itself still regularly makes the rounds, having recently been performed here at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center in 2010 in a decent production co-produced by that venue and Atlanta’s Theater of the Stars. Although the original stage version lacks the film’s brilliant cinematic sweep, the music and the characters—attempting to thrive and grow amidst an ominous Nazi buildup—remain compelling and real.

What may not be compelling and real is this current version, although we’ll have to wait and see. Carrie Underwood’s style of singing generally reflects current practice in which more emotion means more and louder belting. No subtlety or nuance allowed.

And what kind of musical accompaniment will we have? Will it be live? Will it be produced by more than four instruments and a synthesizer, the latest way live theater generates higher profits by foregoing a full orchestra? We’d hope for real music from NBC, which, back in the day, actually fielded its own symphony orchestra, conducted by no less than the legendary Arturo Toscanini, but who knows what we’ll actually get.

There’s always that small matter of creating believable characters, too, whether in film or on stage. Ms. Underwood’s acting chops—unlike those of Julie Andrews or the actual originator of the Broadway role, Mary Martin—are also essentially unknown. It’s hard to imagine her as Maria Rainer. Like, what is World War II? Will either she or the rest of the cast actually get this?

An additional issue: in an age where CGI graphics and spectacular special effects are the new reality, how many listeners will actually tune in for a TV presentation of a live stage show? As popular as this show still is in the hinterlands, we regret to report that that 2010 Wolf Trap performance had plenty of empty seats on opening night. Will this be reflected in tonight’s audience numbers?

There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to tune into your local NBC outlet tonight at 8 p.m. and find out. We’re skeptical here. But you never know.

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Lisa King

I was born and educated in Southwest Virginia, traveled with my job all over America in my twenties and early thirties then came back to the mountains to raise my daughter.

I’ve been employed as everything from a quality control technician in industrial construction, to a mail processing plant manager, to postmaster of a small town. I’ve been to forty nine of the fifty states, as well as many other countries. Traveling will always be a passion I indulge, and something I’ll call upon often in my writing. 

I come from a long line of story tellers, and will shamelessly exploit a family tree resplendent with colorful and unique characters, both past and present.

In short my perspective will reflect the pride and familiarity I have of my Appalachian heritage. My stories will be a reflection of the values I believe we hold dearest here, all embellished with a healthy dose of Southern Appalachian flare.


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