I'll start by saying that a friend of mine on the East Coast -- a huge Broadway fan -- sent me an email about 40 minutes into the East Coast live feed (only 5:40 PM here in Los Angeles) that said, "I was bored to death," and turned it off, after the "Do Re Mi" number.
The be clear, it wasn't because of the performances -- he was impressed with Carrie Underwood. It was because he felt it was flat, being done in a studio, rather than in performance before an audience, like a lot of PBS productions. It made him wonder why bother even doing it, since you can just watch the movie.
I was surprised that he turned off so early, and also that he was so hard on them doing it in studio. I understand his point, though I don't particularly agree.
Then 8 PM came around in Los Angeles, so I watched the recorded "live" production.
Unlike my friend, I watched the whole thing, and basically enjoyed it. But I do understand his being bored – there were a few times I thought about turning it off, but I was fine with it. I was happy enough to stick around.
I was less impressed than him, however, with Carrie Underwood. Part of that is because I saw more of her than he did, and her weaknesses showed more over time. But I had that sense even early on, before “Do Re Mi.” To be clear, I thought she did a professional job and did not remotely embarrass herself. So, I'm impressed with her accomplishing something so challenging. She performed her lines absolutely professionally. But she didn’t bring anything to them – it was largely on the surface. I don’t say her emotions ran the gamut from A to B, but I’d say they went from A to C. And I sensed that she was generally focused on getting her lines right, and hitting her marks, and not screwing up, and that predominated over giving a performance of any depth or substance. She was fine, but I don't believe not more than that, and as I said it became more clear as the show went on. (There was a long stretch in the second act when she’s off-stage, and when she returns you’re reminded, after having watched all the pros for so long, “Oh, yeah, she’s the one who isn’t the trained actress.”) Similarly, in her long one-on-one scene with Audra MacDonald, the disparity showed. She does sing well, so that was enjoyable, and she did it in a Broadway-enough style, which gives her bonus points. But a lot of people sing well. And some add more nuance.
I suspect, though, that most people will say she was quite good. My guess is that that will come because people generally with no expectations and she beat them, so she seemed to come across better. And her fans no doubt loved-loved-loved her, because That's Our Carrie. But – to me – she was fine, and richly professional, but limited in what depth she could bring. And it showed more as the evening went on.
I was surprised that I wasn’t crazy about Stephen Moyer. In many ways, his character is tough because the Captain is largely a stick in the mud. But he seemed so stiff, and when he sang he was just mediocre. Everyone else was good, particularly Christian Bohrle (a Tony-winner last year) and Audra MacDonald (with five Tonys). I just kept thinking about what the production would have been with a ‘Maria’ at that level.
One nice thing about the production after my friend turned it off – they stuck close to the stage musical all the way through, and even kept in two of the “cut songs,” including (as I'm sure readers of these pages noticed) one of my faves, that I had posted previously here, “No Way to Stop It.” They did, however, use “Something Good,” from the movie, rather than “An Ordinary Couple.” (In the end, that’s one of the answers to my friend's question, “Why do it, if you’re not going to have a theater audience, when you can just watch the movie?” There was enough significantly different, since this was the stage version. It was also a touch darker, with a slightly more-pronounced Nazi presence.)
By the way, if you ever come across a video of Carrie Underwood doing her opening song of “The Sound of Music,” there’s a moment I’ll bet most people missed – she’s coming down a little slop, and her feet start to slide out under her, and she almost falls. It wasn’t pronounced, but I could see a very slight stumble and then she righted herself.
So – overall it was fine, and she was perfectly fine, all very professional, though no more than that. It was enjoyable, I'm impressed by how Carrie Underwood beat the huge challenge, and at times it was quite good, but it rarely stirred the heart…and if The Sound of Music does anything, at the very least it’s supposed to stir the heart. But I’m sure it did well in the ratings, which is a good thing for musical lovers, because it leaves the door open for other live musical productions.
So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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