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'Sound of Music' a neat effort with a too-familiar product

December 7, 2013 - Paul Giannamore
I first remember, very vaguely, seeing “The Sound of Music” in the Grand Theater (or maybe the Capitol, but definitely not the Paramount) downtown when I was all of four or so...just a few fleeting memories of going to the movies with my mom and dad. And those stand out because I just don’t remember Dad ever going to the movies because the wide screens tripped his equilibrium troubles.

Of course, my mom watched it every time it was on TV after that. So did my mother-in-law. So would my wife, except I grumble sometimes and hid the remote control. But, I was very interested in seeing the live production on NBC Thursday night. No, I’m no big Carrie Underwood fan, any more than I am of any other modern pop star, but the litttle girl has a nice voice.

I was kind of interested in the form. There was a time when TV filled the hours with live drama without an audience (so, no, “Saturday Night Live doesn’t really fit this mold), though that time has long since past. I wondered if the form still holds up at all.

The answer is that it did. And it didn’t.

Oh, the music was beautiful. The singing was great. The woman who played Mother Abess (Audra McDonald) lit up my screen every time she sang a note. I could pretty much take or leave Stephen Moyer’s Capt. Von Trapp, but then, I didn’t expect Underwood to be Julie Andrews, let alone Moyer to have the chops of Mr. Christopher Plummer.

What resulted from the valiant attempt at live TV theater was kind of odd to me. It was sort of this wooden periods of acting to separate periods of at times great musical performances.

And maybe that’s all that old live TV theater had been (I am too young to have really seen “Playhouse 90” and shows of that ilk).

But to me, the whole thing kind of was a great effort lost on a modern audience.

Face it. We need the musical scores under our dramas (“Hawaii 5-0” and anything produced by Dick Wolf always are moved by their scores, for example). And we need to hear an audience reacting in some way, to know we’re sharing an experience, not just watching a show.

“Sound of Music” 2013 came off as not quite great TV, not quite great theater. It was as if a traveling troupe put on a good bit of well-sung dinner theater except we had no stage. No audience with us. And no dinner unless we had a bag of chips on the end table.

I hope, however, that it’s not the end of such attempts. A big part of my lukewarm reaction is that “The Sound of Music” carries a certain level of expectations. We know all the lines. We know all the songs (yes, men, we do despite our protestations and laughs at parodies over the years, know this show). We know what it looked like and felt like in the hands of some great people. And nothing less than absolute perfection could have come close in this TV staged version, and even then, it would have been impossible to keep from comparisons in our mind, consciously or sub-consciously. To me, and I associate everything in some way to gearheadism, it’s like redesigning the original 1963 Buick Rivera. Why bother? It was perfect as it was. It would be better if TV tries this again soon to give us something original, something we carry no expectations to as we sit down to watch.

Had there never been the movie, this “Sound of Music” might not have been great, but not overly hyped.

It was a good attempt at giving TV back some air of culture, some air of caring about family programming, some air of doing something other than the ongoing Bubbafication of America represented by Duck Dynasty (I know, I know, it has its fans and those guys pray, after all) or Guidofication (anything featuring “real” and “Jersey” in the title). Please, NBC and any other broadcast or cable network that can, look at the show, analyze it, figure out how to do it again and a little better. I assure you, some of us won’t tune out.


Article Comments



Dec-09-13 4:27 PM

My guess---and it's a pure guess--it that there would not have to be any "set changes" if there was no audience. I agree, I think that it would have been better in front of a live audience. And the production people could have brought in some Broadway set personnel to learn how to do it properly. But then, a live audience would have even put more pressure on some of the inexperienced people---Carrie to be specific. All things considered, I thought that she did a good job. Many of the theater people (of which I am one) pooh-pooh'd this production on FBbecuase it wasn't perfect. As you know, I suggested that they get their heads out of their butts!


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