Tag Archives: Audra McDonald

NBC’s risky ‘Sound of Music Live!’ premieres tonight

Carrie Underwood (center) stars as Maria in ''The Sound of Music Live!' tonight on NBC.

Spirited governess Maria Rainer (Carrie Underwood, center) helps her young charges rediscover the joy of singing in “The Sound of Music Live!,’ premiering tonight on NBC.

When NBC announced plans several months ago to present a new holiday version of The Sound of Music starring Carrie Underwood as Maria, many Julie Andrews fans reacted with the same apoplexy that greeted the news that Ben Affleck would be the next Batman. To put it mildly, they had a problem with this Maria, and poor Underwood soon was getting hate tweets on her Twitter account.
That initial hysteria seems to have died down, for the most part, but as The Sound of Music Live! premieres tonight as a three-hour special on NBC, many viewers tuning in will be doing so to see whether Underwood – a former American Idol winner and country music superstar but an untested actress – can pull off this iconic character that brought Andrews her second Academy Award nomination as best actress.
If comparisons to the much-beloved Andrews are inevitable, to some extent they’re also irrelevant, though. While Underwood is playing the same character that Andrews portrayed in the 1965 Oscar-winning movie blockbuster, this new NBC production actually is (for the most part) a reimagining of the 1959 Broadway version of this Rodgers & Hammerstein classic, which earned a Tony Award for Mary Martin. In recent days and weeks, anyone close to The Sound of Music Live! has been taking pains to draw that distinction, and fans of the 1965 film are sure to notice some striking differences, particularly in the order and context of the songs. Whether they find those differences interesting or irritating remains to be seen.
“My Favorite Things,” sung by Maria in the film to calm the Von Trapp children during a thunderstorm, here is a duet for Maria and the Mother Abbess (Audra McDonald) early in the show, before Maria leaves the abbey. “I Have Confidence,” which Rodgers wrote expressly as a transition song for the film to follow Maria from the abbey to the Von Trapp estate, isn’t to be found in The Sound of Music Live!, although – try to stay with me, now – “Something Good,” a love song for Maria and the Captain (Stephen Moyer) that was written for the movie, has now replaced a similar song from the original Broadway production called “An Ordinary Couple.”
Baroness Elsa Shrader (Laura Benanti, Go On) and Max Detweiler (Christian Borle, Smash) are singing characters in this production, which means we get the happy restoration of two more songs from the original Broadway score, “How Can Love Survive?” and “No Way to Stop It.” Both numbers reflect the wordly, cynical attitude of Elsa and Max, which helps cut the sugar a bit.
Earlier this week, Sony released a studio recording of this cast performing the songs they’ll be singing live in tonight’s telecast. After hearing Borle and Benanti tear through their two numbers, I can’t ait to see these two Tony winners recreate them in live performance. I’m also looking forward to McDonald’s “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” which raises goosebumps on the CD
But back to Underwood. Obviously, I have no idea how well she’ll pull off the acting part of her role, although come on, she’s playing Maria, not Medea. Based on the CD, however, I can report that vocally, she sounds sunny and self-assured. If you’re tuning in expecting her to face-plant in her songs, you’re probably going to be disappointed. She makes an especially lovely thing out of “Something Good,” which she sings simply and without affect (Moyer’s very good in this duet, too, and in his other songs).
I’ve got my fingers crossed that NBC’s team is able to pull off this technically daunting production. Certainly, it was smart casting to hire seasoned theater pros like McDonald (who has five Tony wins to her credit), Borle and Benanti to lend Broadway credibility to a project whose leading lady is green in terms of stage experience. Yet while it admittedly takes awhile to get used to hearing these familiar tunes sung in anything other than Andrews’ crystalline, British-inflected soprano, once you get past that hurdle, Underwood’s singing is very persuasive. To paraphrase a lyric from the movie, I have to agree, she has confidence in herself.
Stephen Moyer and Laura Benanti star in 'The Sound of Music Live!' tonight on NBC.

Stephen Moyer stars as Georg von Trapp and Laura Benanti is Baroness Elsa Shrader in ‘The Sound of Music Live!’ on NBC.

Something for all in ‘Great Performances 40th Anniversary Celebration’

Julie Andrews

Julia Andrews welcomes a Lincoln Center audience to ‘Great Performances 40th Anniversary Celebration’ Friday on PBS.

A PBS institution enters middle age tonight with an all-star birthday gala as Great Performances 40th Anniversary Celebration premieres on many of the network’s affiliates (be sure to check your local listings).
The 90-minute clips-heavy special spotlights the breathtaking diversity that this series, TV’s longest-running performing arts showcase, has brought to viewers across the decades, although the overall sensibility of the production, taped at Lincoln Center nearly a year ago, skirts the high-brow in favor of keeping things relaxed and accessible to a wide audience. Indeed, opera – a mainstay of Great Performances over the years – is represented within the lineup only with a brief aria from Bizet’s Carmen, with sexy blonde Latvian soprano Elina Garanca reprising a highlight from her Metropolitan Opera success in the title role.
Julie Andrews, who has become something of a PBS poster girl during the Indian summer of her career, opens the program with a segment devoted to memorable Great Performances offerings drawn from musical theater, encompassing such shows as Oklahoma!, Cats and South Pacific, among many others. “Its simple premise was to provide a home for the world’s greatest artists,” Andrews says of how Great Performances was born. “The series would be a showcase for the best in music, drama and dance. And as you will see tonight, four decades later, this vision not only succeeded, but it has grown to give viewers across the country a front row seat to the performing arts.”
PBS mainstay Audra McDonald kicks off the evening’s musical lineup with a number from the Broadway musical She Loves Me, followed by a Jason Robert Brown song called “Stars and the Moon” that is a high point of the entire telecast. (Brown, who won a Tony Award a few years ago for his shortlived Broadway musical Parade, may not be familiar to you, but I suspect he’s about to break out in a big way: His musical adaptation of the movie comedy Honeymoon in Vegas just opened to rave reviews at New Jersey’s Papermill Playhouse, while his highly anticipated musical setting of The Bridges of Madison County opens on Broadway in early 2014).
Introducing a segment celebrating the series’ legacy of great drama programs, Tony and Emmy winner David Hyde Pierce credits Great Performances with inspiring him to become an actor by exposing him during his formative years to provocative works and performances from some of the world’s best actors, while New York City Ballet chief Peter Martins reflects on how Great Performances has brought striking and original new works by George Balanchine, Jerome Roberts, Alvin Ailey, Paul Taylor and Martha Graham to a vast American audience. As an example, Martins presents members of his current troupe in a very funny dance number set to Ray Charles singing “It Should’ve Been Me.”
Rounding out the program are engaging performances by violinist Itzhak Perlman and vocalists ranging from Josh Groban and Don Henley to Patti Austin and Take 6. PBS favorite Michael Buble closes out by thanking Great Performances for giving him a showcase nine years ago when he was just starting out, allowing him to become the “humble global superstar” we see in him today. That’s just before he suggests that PBS really stands for “a Pretty Bad-ass Station” and coaxes several members of audience to join him as an onstage “mosh pit” for his final number, “I’ve Got the World on a String.”
Like I said, nothing too stuffy or high-brow here, just some exceptional performers celebrating a TV series that, in most cases, has been very good to them … and, of course, to us.
David Hyde Pierce

David Hyde Pierce in ‘Great Performances 40th Anniversary Celebration’ on PBS.