Carrie Underwood in The Sound of Music

When I heard there would be a new production of the Sound of Music I had mixed feelings. The sound of music is one of my favorite movies and Julie Andrews is probably the only celebrity I have ever admired. (I have never been a groupie.) Julie Andrews was my inspiration and idol. I grew up trying to sing just like her, which lead me to become a singer myself.

I went into last night’s performance with an open mind. I was prepared for anything. I know that this role is a serious undertaking and following the heels of Julie Andrews is no small undertaking, if not an impossible task. But I was also prepared to be pleasantly surprised by hearing something different, new and exciting. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

The first number opened and I was confused. I did not realize that this was a staged version performed for live televesion.  In a recent remake of South Pacific, it was filmed as a movie and that is what I expected.  From watching my own performances and those of others, I learned that theater does not translate well in to the large or small screen either. There is a movie version of ‘I Pagliacci’ with Teresa Stratas that is amazing. But generally, it is hard to do and with this understanding, my expectations are automatically lowered.

As soon as Carrie began to sing I realized the “Hills are alive” was transposed into a different key. I have sang this song so many times that my vocal chords vibrate upon hearing it. Within seconds my brain did calculations on how that would effect the ensemble numbers and I worried about it.

By the time the children did “Do re mi”, my undivided attention was lost. The acting on the stage seemed to me like people simply running their lines at a Sitzprobe trying to conserve their energy for the real thing. It was disappointing though I thought the children’s choreography was charming.

I lost most of my visual attention and looked up occasionally. I began to participate in some Facebook threads about it.

A lot of people who were theater people like myself hated this production.

Then there were people who loved it and they were very vocal in defense of Carrie and bitter about the negative Facebook comments.

Here is my response to their points.

  1. It’s live theater of course it isn’t perfect. They can’t do retakes and edits like the movie.First of all, I have performed in many high quality productions and watched them too. They can be very enthralling and can be done much better than this.  When they are done well, people will forgive mistakes. In fact, they won’t ever remember them.  I once saw a JHS production of ‘My Fair Lady.’ The actor on stage needed to light a candle.  The actor didn’t miss a beat and immediately asked the audience, “Does anyone have a match?” This is a mistake I remember but in a good way. It showed professionalism.
  2. Julie did this in a movie, not live. Julie Andrews started her career in live theater and had performed many singing roles both live and in film. Her last musical theater role was Victor / Victoria performing eight performances a week on Broadway.  Live theater is not an excuse for bad performance.
  3. Even if Barbara Streisand performed the role people would complain. Well yes, people would complain because Barbara’s voice wouldn’t be right for the part. Neither is Carrie’s. Carrie has a beautiful instrument. That doesn’t mean it is well suited for the part. The part requires a clear voice which she has. It also requires a kind of warmth and tenderness that a good lyric soprano has. That warmth is really important for a role , one that is essentially a nun and nanny. Carrie doesn’t have that sound. Her voice would be very well suited for Nellie Forbish, and I can see her washing that man out of her hair.
  4. This is her first time acting. All I can say to that is, ‘then why she is on the stage?’ Most singers have some experience in musical theater. I’m hard pressed to believe she has never been on stage before even in a HS production but ok. Plus you can’t do a good singing performance without some acting involved.The acting overall was bad and not just with Carrie. There was no chemistry between her and the Captain or her and the children. The best chemistry was between Max and the Baronness. The best number was ‘Climb Every Mountain’ and Audra being black in a role of a nun during the Anschluss did not bother me at all.
  5. She was nervous singing live in front of the entire country. Stage fright is an interesting thing. If you experience it, you know that the quantity of the people in the audience does not make you more or less nervous. Besides, Carrie is a seasoned performer.
  6. They needed a big box office name to headline the show. Why? The sound of music is iconic. It has a cult following. I really don’t believe you needed to have a headliner to attract viewers. People who tuned in did so because they love the show, love the music and love Julie. It’s no accident that the movie is shown in theaters with live sing-alongs. I doubt there was a significant number of viewers watching it simply because of the headliners.There are many really talented people in this world. Why do producers go to non-singers for singing roles (not in this case), TV actors for modeling magazines etc. etc. Do we need tv actresses to be on the cover of glamour magazines and country singers singing Maria? Why not pick others who are unknown but whom are really, really talented? It’s hard to understand the reasoning of the decision makers who appeal to the lowest denominator limiting the choices and availability of exposure to and by other talents. The Ed Sullivan show was before my time but on it, there was a great deal more variety and exposure. As a result, people simply had broader taste in their arts. It’s a disservice to the audience who could grow with more exposure and a disservice to the legions of very talented people who have real talent and deserve the opportunity.This production was bad on so many levels. A show as iconic as the Sound of Music needs to be treated in one of two ways.
  • Cast it with those who will give the movie a good run for its money. I guarantee there is a singer that can so this well where one can say, ‘I love Julie in this role but I really like this one too.’
  • Reorchestrate this with a very different arrangement utilizing a different genre of music and costuming and then do it well. Bernstein rerecorded West Side Story with Kiri Takanawa and Jose Carreras. The sound track definitely had hits and misses. Some of the singing like the “Jet song” was just too stuffy for that recording and not gritty enough… on the other hand there was some really spectacular singing there as well, and that singing did work.  My point is, you can do it differently and get accolades or at least brownie points if you do it well.

This could have been done a lot better. I believe the producers of this production missed the mark on so many levels. They don’t understand musical theater and they don’t understand this audience. What a shame.

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