Thursday, December 5, 2013

It Really Wasn’t That Bad

Yes, I can be a very tough critic. In fact, I usually am. Yes, I shared my share of snide tweets and comments during the airing of “The Sound of Music – Live” on NBC tonight. I was even a bit cruel to the poor girl who played Gretl when she was grotesquely off-key at the end of “So Long, Farewell” (and for that, I apologize, Peyton Ella.)

Yes, Carrie Underwood’s acting was stiff. Yes, there was this constant white noise hiss in the audio. Yes, it was an insane set design choice to combine obviously theatrical sets pieces with a photomural mountain background. Yes, I’ve seen better thunder/lightning effects in school plays. Staging the “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” song on the mountain set was also a head-scratcher. There was some clever use of the studio space, but the set design, was, overall, merely adequate. The audio, at times, seemed amateurish – bad mixes, late cues, and more. I’m still not sure if the music was canned or live. I’m guessing it was canned, but it’s hard to know and the NBC website doesn’t say.

Nevertheless, there was Audra McDonald. She alone was enough to make the production worth watching. There were Christian Borle and Laura Benanti. Even Stephen Moyer played a decent Captain Von Trapp. Say what you will about Carrie Underwood, she does have quite the voice. There was Joe West’s Kurt. Keep an eye on that one. Amazing. The rest of the kids were pretty decent as well.

Imagine, too, acting, singing, and dancing in a live production with no audience to applaud, to react, etc. That, I believe was a major drawback. I do wonder how the performances might have sparked a bit more if there was an audience to which the actors could react (and vice versa.) My sympathy to the actors for having to do this without any audience.

Live stage productions are difficult to do on television. Go back, I mean really go back and look closely at the television productions of Peter Pan, Cinderella, Once Upon A Mattress. They may be the magic moments from our childhood, but if you really look closely, they had their share of problems. It is never easy to adapt a stage production for television. Film adaptations don’t always work, either, but Sound of Music was clearly a film adaptation that worked quite well. It is simply not fair to compare the film version with an adapted for television stage production.

On the other hand, I wonder what might have happened if this had been less of a live stage to tv adaptation and more of one that utilized the newly available technologies used in modern television production? While I applaud NBC’s willingness to take a chance on a live production, that might not have been the best option.

Following the many tweets and comments, it was apparent to me that there were as many supporters as there were detractors. I resolved, from the start, to not automatically be a basher of the production from the get go, and to try and give it a fair viewing. I did, and while it was far from one of the best things I’ve seen, it was far from the worst. Maybe I’m damning it with faint praise. I hope NBC (an other networks) won’t shy away from trying again, with other live adaptations. I am sure there is much to be learned from this production of the Sound of Music. Let’s hope we all learn from it.


©2013 by Adrian A. Durlester 


1 comment:

Dawn said...

These are my thoughts this morning after some perspective. I posted on Facebook.

After watching The Sound of Music again (yes I sat through it again for critical perspective) here are my opinions if you care.

1. Carrie Underwood can sing. Really, sing. She was so much more comfortable when the music was on. Her movements, her demeanour, everything worked so much better to music. Her acting was extraordinarily weak, to the point of even noticeably glancing at the teleprompter several times. But...she got better as the show went on as she relaxed. Live theatre is incredibly difficult and I give her props for the effort, but taking a beginner's acting class in front of millions of people was probably not a great idea.
2. I think that she has potential, but her costar Stephen Moyer was stiff and his voice weak. And he is the professional actor. I've never watched True Blood but I hope that his fans were satisfied. I wasn't. His Captain was seriously maudlin and lacking in charisma and his rendition of Edleweiss was tremendously disappointing.
3. The kids were ok. Really. Not bad at all. Especially the young man who played Kurt.
4. The rest of the cast was stellar as I expected, especially Audra McDonald who literally laid me flat out with Climb Ev'ry Mountain. Stunning. Christian Borle and Laura Benanti were also excellent. Their experience on stage was so obvious and necessary to the workings of the show.
5. My greatest issues were with the production values. While the set was well-done the sound was brutal. Microphones and background noise were so intrusive I found some parts almost unwatchable. The underscore was so loud it actually drowned out the Mother Abbess at the end. This is live TV and NBC blew it badly. The direction of the camera angles was too jaunty at times but it settled during the second act. Honestly, the Oscar telecast is more professional.
6. I think that the entire production and cast would have fared better if it had been done in front of a live audience in studio. As well as live orchestra might have helped too. Stage performers thrive off of the energy of direct contact with an audience and it was glaringly missing. Carrie Underwood was at her best when other people were reacting to her voice and you could see that she loved it.
7. I have very few issues with the actual changes from the film. I expected them and knew what was coming. This was not a remake, but rather a re-staging of the original play. If you want to get technical, the film is the remake. The show actually flows better in its original form.

All in all, it was disappointing. I almost turned it off after Audra's big moment but I persevered. My greatest concern is that this middling effort has turned people off of live musical theatre for television for a while, and that would be the biggest shame of all. Please don't let this production discourage you. PBS has done some wonderful telecasts of live performances. Check out Carousel, Oklahoma, and Light in the Piazza. All excellent. And weird as I am...I just might watch it again. I told you that I need professional help when it comes to The Sound of Music.