Tag Archives: Rodgers & Hammerstein

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.

R&H’s problematic ‘Carousel’ gets a deluxe treatment from PBS

Nathan Gunn and Kelli O’Hara
Compared to their four other masterpieces – Oklahoma, South Pacific, The King and I and The Sound of Music – Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel is the team’s problem child, a work of sometimes piercing musical beauty that is hobbled by a depressing book and two leading characters that are hard for a modern audience to connect with.
This adaptation of an even darker Hungarian drama called Liliom transfers the main action to a Maine coastal community, charting the tragic romance between handsome but arrogant carnival barker Billy Bigelow and mild-mannered mill worker Julie Jordan. Billy, we subsequently learn, is given to smacking Julie around when he gets frustrated, although Julie will reassure her daughter, Louise, later in the play that when you love someone enough, the slaps feel almost like kisses. Needless to say, this sort of thing is a bitter pill for today’s theatergoers to swallow, and that’s not even taking into account that Billy commits suicide during a botched robbery early in Act Two. Julie’s doormat tendencies are only underlined by her apparent decision to marry Billy not because of any sterling qualities he possesses, just so she wouldn’t be alone, which is yet another downer.
Thankfully, the score – which composer Richard Rodgers has said was his favorite – still mostly holds up today, and that’s what is highlighted in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel With the New York Philharmonic, a Live From Lincoln Center special premiering Friday on many PBS affiliates (check your local listings closely – in my market, it’s not airing until this Sunday afternoon).
The series has assembled an absolutely stunning cast led by Metropolitan opera superstar baritone Nathan Gunn and four-time Tony Award nominee Kelli O’Hara (Nellie Forbush in the 2010 Live From Lincoln Center telecast of South Pacific) as Billy and Julie. Met Opera favorite Stephanie Blythe co-stars as Nettie Fowler, who sings “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and former Tony nominee Jessie Mueller and Jason Danieley (who sang Lt. Cable in a 2006 Great Performances concert presentation of South Pacific with Reba McEntire) as Julie’s best friend, Carrie Pipperidge, and her beau, Enoch Snow. Rounding out the cast are Tony winner Shuler Hensley, Kate Burton and John Cullum. Rob Fisher conducts the New York Philharmonic for this staged concert performance, which was directed by John Rando.
The production wasn’t available for preview, but Live From Lincoln Center has been posting several sneak peeks on its Facebook page that suggest this telecast is a must-see for musical theater fans. The Broadway revival of South Pacific in which O’Hara starred a few years ago didn’t shrink from the topic of American racism during World War II, and it will be interesting to see how she and Gunn, both really splendid singing actors, handle Billy and Julie’s troubling relationship.
One moment to watch for in particular comes early in Act One, the so-called “bench scene” in which Billy and Julie meet and fall in love while firmly insisting that they are not, in fact, falling in love, in the song “If I Loved You,” in which music, dialogue and singing are woven ingeniously into a seamless whole. Other memorable songs include the aforementioned “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and Billy’s famous “Soliloquy,” in which he muses on his impending fatherhood. Actually, there are few real clinkers in the score, apart from the inane “This Was a Real Nice Clambake,” and Rodgers’ purely instrumental numbers, like the showpiece “The Carousel Waltz” that opens the show and the haunting beach ballet for Louise in Act Two, show the composer at the very height of his powers.
In some respects, Carousel always is going to seem like a flawed work, but if you want to sample its considerable musical merits, this special is about as good as it’s going to get.