Pop, hot and haute culture around Seattle

I’ve been busy with NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) and then, between a computer upgrade and a nasty cold, fell way behind my reviews. I’ll give a thumbnail recap shortly.

I did catch Carrie Underwood in NBC’s Sound of Music, which prompts this review. I don’t know much about Underwood, other than she won American Idol some years ago. I’ve liked what I’ve heard from her, though, and was very curious to see her acting. The critics who attacked her performance were, I felt, unfair, so I wanted to lay out my observations in her defense.

Overall, I was quite surprised; I thought she did better than expected. People who’ve attacked her performance need to understand that of COURSE she’s no Julie Andrews; she’s no Mary Martin. The last two are performers, who had collected a lot of singing and acting experience before they took on the role. Underwood is, first and foremost, a singer. A performer, to me, is one who sings, dances, and acts with equal ease. That means Audra McDonald, Andrews and Martin, and a host of others. That does not include someone like Underwood who, however successful they are as a singer, has had little or no experience dancing or acting.

She brought a certain freshness and naivete to the role which I liked. Maria’s a tough role; she’s both drawn to the cloistered convent life, but overjoyed by the experiences and freedoms of the outside world. Underwood brought just the right amount of excitement to that part.

Of course she was upstaged by the children (duh! Who wouldn’t be?) but held her own among some of the more seasoned veterans. I want to give my kudos to Underwood for tackling the role in the first place, for stepping out so fearlessly into another career direction.

The rest of the cast was extremely good, though. Audra McDonald was quite convincing as the Mother Superior, and there was great chemistry between her and Underwood. Others in the cast were Stephen Moyer as Captain von Trapp, and Laura Benanti as the glamorous, sophisticated Baroness Elsa Schrader (a side note: Eleanor Parker, who played this role in the film, just died this week at 91). The best performance, though, was delivered by Christian Borle, playing Max Detwiler. All I knew about Borle was that he played Deborah Messing’s collaborator in Smash. This role was a delightful surprise for me.

The production itself was problematic and maybe a more seasoned performer than Underwood might have delivered a better overall production, but the fault is not hers. The mountain set always looked like a set, never a problem in theater, but was quite problematic in this show. The story was filmed on a closed set, with no audience, so the scene lacked the scope and awe so beautifully captured in the movie, which was important since the mountain was a character in the show.

On the other hand, when it worked, it worked beautifully: the scene where Maria leaves the party and flees to the convent is shot just by her exiting the parlor and entering directly into the basilica of the convent. The camera swings around and, just like that, we watch her run down the corridor back to her old life. A brilliant transition, smoothly done.

Other problems were more serious; the sound production was unexcuseably poor. I heard an audible hum at times, but the most serious failure was during the songs: the sound was so unbalanced I could barely hear the performers above the music.

Overall, I’d give the production a B+. I’m glad there’s now a record of this show as written, as a fitting tribute to Rogers and Hammerstein’s last show (Hammerstein died just after the show opened; the last song he wrote was ‘Edelweis’).

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