Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Movie Review: The Sound of Music Live!



Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Returns to the play yet still filled with the classic songs and story
Cons: Carrie Underwood’s unpolished acting; lack of a live audience
The Bottom Line:
A classic redone
Restores things fans of play missed
Fun for what it is




The Hills Are Indeed Still Alive with the Sound of Music

Over the last decade, TV has become about serialized dramas and reality TV.  That’s why NBC took a big risk with their recently aired The Sound of Music Live!  It was a one night only performance of a classic stage musical.  And it was aired live (well, on the East Coast).  Plus it was family friendly entertainment.  While this kind of thing used to be a staple of TV, it hasn’t been done in years.  The gamble paid off ratings wise, and I enjoyed it as well.

Just in case you aren’t familiar with the musical, it tells the story of Maria (Carrie Underwood).  She is planning to become a nun in 1930’s Austria, but she doesn’t quite fit in to the convent.  The Mother Abbess (Audra McDonald) sends her to Captain Von Trapp (Stephen Moyer) to be the governess for his seven children.  While she wins their heart, the captain is winning hers.  But with Germany threatening to invade any day, does any of it matter?

Now before I go any further, there are some complaints I have seen about this musical that I need to set straight.

THIS WAS A FILMED VERSION OF THE STAGE MUSICAL.  THIS WAS NOT A NEW VERSION OF THE MOVIE.

And yes, that is an important distinction and it comes into play in two important places.

The first is the music.  The famous Julie Andrews movie rearranged a couple of the songs, added one, changed one, and took out two.  This version stuck to the original stage play.  That means Maria and Mother Abbess sing “My Favorite Things” before Maria leaves the convent and Maria sings “The Lonely Goatherd” to distract the kids during the lightning storm her first night with them.  Additionally, you won’t see “I Have Confidence” at all.  The only change from the movie they kept was the love song.  The Captain and Maria sing “Something Good” instead of “An Ordinary Couple.”  Honestly, neither of these songs rises to the level of the rest of the classics from this play, but I do prefer “Something Good” a bit more.

The other place the fact this is a play comes into production is the sets.  This was filmed in a soundstage, so yes, the times when the characters are supposed to be outside look fake.  But I expected that going into it.  They didn’t spend a year in another country filming on location.  They spent three hours filming the entire thing from start to finish.  When you consider that, the sets look pretty good to me.  Think of something you’d see for some sitcoms, and you’ll be fine.  And honestly, when I’ve seen this play down before, Maria sings “The Sound of Music” with just a curtain behind her and we have to use our imagination to come up with the mountain she’s on.  This is already a huge step ahead of that.

Can you tell I feel passionately about this?  That’s because after being an extra in the party scene, I have long wanted someone to create a filmed version of the play.  Yes, I love the Julie Andrews movie.  I will always love the Julie Andrews movie.  I consider it a classic.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t untouchable.  That is how one group of people interpreted the story, but others can do it again.  (Yes, it’s the play goer in me talking.)  As I said, the original movie took out two songs, both of which I love, but this version put them back in the story.  Both are fun, and they help develop Elsa and the Captain, which makes him a better love interest and us care a bit when he and Elsa break up.  The reordered songs reveal different things about different characters.  And the play is more grounded in the German/Austria politics of the time than the movie, which make the climax feel more like part of the story.  Oh, and the play is also kinder to Rolf and Liesel at the end than the movie.

Of course, the movie shows a bit more of Maria and the Captain falling in love than the play does.  It’s very little, but it does help.  And the filming on location absolutely helps.  While the dance numbers here are certainly fun (I was smiling as I watched them), they don’t compare to the ones from the movie because a movie used many more locations and inventive dance moves.

So let’s discuss the biggest weakness of this filmed play version of the story – Carrie Underwood.  Those who criticize her acting are correct.  I certainly found her watchable, and she seemed to relax as the play went forward, but she was stiff early on.  Really, I would call it unpolished more than bad.  Then again, others in the cast had their moments that seemed a bit awkward.  For the most part, they were fine, however, and Stephen Moyer really impressed me with how he made the Captain so much more real than Christopher Plummer ever did.  I can actually see why Maria would fall for him here.

Honestly, one thing that would have helped the actors is a live audience in the studio.  There is nothing like a live audience to help bring a performance to life.  I’ve found that with the little bit of skits and plays I’ve done.  There are laugh lines in this play that fall flat no matter who says them without an audience to laugh at them.  The energy of an audience makes a huge difference.  While the cast did a good job, it could have been so much better with someone there to encourage the actors.

One place I can’t fault anyone is the musical numbers.  All the classics you love are here, and they sound wonderful.  If I didn’t know Carrie was a country singer, I’d never know it from this play – she lost all of her twang for the part.  The choreography is fun, too.

So which is better?  As I said, the Julie Andrews version is a classic, and this filmed play is not going to shake that at all.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy this one, too.  I plan to enjoy both for years to come depending on which one I am in the mood to watch.  It’s nice to have a choice since I like both the stage version and the movie version of this story.

So sit down with an open mind and give the filmed play a chance.  You just might find some new moments in The Sound of Music Live! that you’ll enjoy.

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