TV Recap: The Sound of Music, Live!

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Plot: A live televised broadcast of the 1959 Broadway musical classic. Set right before World War II in Austria, a young postulant (Carrie Underwood) leaves her convent to become governess for a naval Captain’s (Stephen Moyer) seven children, and teaches them the joy of music.

I was all set to open this review with “The hills are not alive with the sound of music,” but as it turns out, this was actually pretty good…dammit. The Sound of Music is an absolute classic, and unless you’re under the age of fifteen, there’s no way you haven’t at least heard of it. I think my mom has listened to these songs about 1,200 times. While I can’t imagine how difficult and nerve-racking it must be to do a live television performance of this caliber, I’m not here to hand out participation ribbons. It certainly has its problems, but the one thing that was clear to me half way through this broadcast –is that it’s impossible to screw up The Sound of Music. Seriously, if Sacha Baron Cohen was Captain Von Trapp, it would probably still be acceptable. It’s just one of those plays like A Christmas Carol that is impervious to being bad.

Photo Credit: Nino Munoz/NBC
Photo Credit: Nino Munoz/NBC

The first fifteen minutes were pretty dreadful, and I thought I was in for a disaster. The nuns at the beginning just seemed nervous, and Carrie Underwood’s first big number as Maria fell flat. It wasn’t until the third song, “My Favorite Things,” where it really started to pick up steam. Audra McDonald plays Mother Abbess, Maria’s de-facto mentor, and she was great both musically and acting wise. Underwood for the most part was solid. Her musical numbers hit all the marks that needed to be hit, and the acting was fine. Nothing special, but didn’t take away from the production at all.

The best performance by far was Stephen Moyer as Captain Von Trapp. His musical numbers were good, but when it came time for actual acting, he was pretty stellar. There was this one moment where he sort of walks to the balcony alone, and he was actually quite compelling. The other actress who elevated the acting was Laura Benanti as Elsa Schrader, the Captain’s soon to be wife. While all the musical numbers were strong, everybody turned in ho-hum acting performances, except for these two and McDonald as mentioned earlier. Christian Borle as the charismatic Max Detweiler was also solid.

Then we have the seven Von Trapp kids, who always just ran together for me. They were rough at times, but for the most part did their job of singing and being cute. The only Von Trapp kid you get to know well is the oldest, Liesl, played by Ariane Rinehart. She’s pretty good for the most part, but her one big scene with love interest Rolf (Michael Campayno), and the performance of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” was kind of weak.

Photo Credit: Paul Drinkwater/NBC
Photo Credit: Paul Drinkwater/NBC

The only other performance I want to touch on is CJ Wilson (no, not the baseball player) as one of Nazi’s, Herr Zeller. This guy hammed it up heavily. Seriously CJ, calm down. I just couldn’t help but laugh whenever he came on. There…you won’t find better Herr Zeller analysis then that.

The sets were basically a mixed bag. The Von Trapp mansion actually looked damn impressive, especially outside. What did not look impressive though were the other outdoor sets such as the woods. Seriously, it looked like my backyard. You couldn’t do any better?

This production isn’t reinventing the wheel here, and it’s probably better for it. If you really love this play, I would recommend checking it out (DVD will be released on December 17th, 2013). It’s solid musical numbers all the way through, with hit or miss acting along the way. My two big gripes are that it feels very “going through the motions” at times, and a lot of the songs do go on way too long, and get recycled way too often. But for a three hour musical telecast that was able to hold my attention…that says a lot. I’m just shocked no one has yet done a film remake, or modern retelling where the lyrics to “My Favorite Things” are changed to “twitter and ipads and TIVO and NFL Network. X-Box One, PS4, and Breaking Bad Complete Blu-Ray Collection…these are a few of my faaaaaaaavoooorite thiiiiiiiiiiings!”

Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.

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