Fringe Online 2020
Book Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Executive-produced by Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, The Sound of Music Live! was co-directed by Beth McCarthy-Miller and Rob Ashford. Ashford’s also choreographer, producer Priscilla Taussig , David Chase as music director and Derek McLane production designer . Lighting Designers Bob Barnhart and Ed McCarthy. Catherine Zuber’s costume designer and Bernie Telsey casting director. Art director Keevn Rupnik Assistant Aimee Dombo.
The 2013 telecast of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical is based on the original 1959 Broadway production of The Sound of Music, starring Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel.
You’ve seen the film. The 1959 musical isn’t quite like it at the end, but see that anyway and judge for yourself in this 2013 NBC production. With Lloyd-Webber stepping aside the Shows Must Go On produces its seventh weekend fix.
It’s a live television adaptation, Carrie Underwood’s Maria melts Stephen Moyer, and we get terrific performances from Audra McDonald as you’d expect, as well as Laura Benanti and Christian Borle. It in fact launched a series of live TV musicals for NBC.
There were doubts and they’re faintly justified. None as to the singing. Grammy winner Underwood stars as Maria – great singer, can’t act was the prejudice. However Underwood melts. The sheer power of storytelling brings something else to her admittedly attractive presence – and she has as even her critics notice, a terrific charisma: standing still you certainly believe in her. She improves and is ultimately moving.
McDonald is of course a star, the greatest here, whether singing Bernstein or her award-winning Ragtime and Master Class as Mother Abbess, she has a voice like a warm hug as an early critic put it on that Bernstein album. She’s warmly convincing, though the way the dramaturgy’s built up lacks the tensions the film has, and this might be simply unfair: it’s just impossible not to refract the power of that 1965 behemoth in the way of the 1959 original. It’s the power of the music itself and the choral singing of the nuns here that emerges rivals any production.
Tony nominee Christiane Noll’s Sister Margaretta, Jessica Molaskey’s Sister Berthe, and Elena Shaddow’s Sister Sophia make up a trio with a happy/harrumph relationship with Maria. They have character and a bit of swing. Still they don’t get the chance to sin at the end of the musical: seems 1965 has added a thing or two.
True Blood star Moyer as Capt. Georg von Trapp is a bit more problematic. He’s more youthful and can’t bring out the hollow grief and power of an actor like Christopher Plummer. He sings better though, less characterfully but manages to act in a clenched-grief manner effectively and transforms through the wondrous moment when he overhears, then joins in the singing. That’s still a tear-jerker. He and Underwood sing beautifully together too.
Of course it’s the children who form the bond and foster it, and their travails, especially Liesl’s, that counterpoint the terrific punch of the storyline. Ariane Rinehart’s Liesl is warm and in fact an animating teenage romance presence. Michael Nigro’s uptight Fredrich is well-taken, Ella Watts-Gorman’s noisy Louisa, Joe West’s second-brother-syndrome Kurt are necessarily overshadowed by the role of Brigitta, Sophia Caruso has much truth-telling to do. She’s really strong and a fine presence. Grace Rundhaug’s uncertain Marta (the mystery Maria’s not plucked out yet), and Peyton Ella’s enchanting young Gretl complete a distinguished young cast.
Moyer’s a little overshadowed by two excellent actors, like him and Underwood fine but characterful singers, even if less in the sun. Benanti (Gypsy, She Loves Me) as a rather warmer Elsa Schrader is a bit more believable here than others I’ve seen, and Borle (Peter and the Starcatcher, Something Rotten!) as Max Dettweiler is more youthful than Max might be, but why not? He’s funny excellent timing and movement especially when with the children – and engaging too. Benanti and Borle make a fine duo and bring out some of the best in Moyer in their trio ‘Be wise, compromise’ they sing to him. It was the song struck out of the film. The 1959 Max was marvellously guttural and sounded like Brecht trying on Mac the Knife (Brecht sang too to start with), but Borle’s young fixer and Benanti’s warmer pliable and realist Schrader make you see why these characters act as they do.
Another Tony nominee Kristine Nielsen plays initially frosty, ultimately warm-hearted Frau Schmidt, with Sean Cullen’s heil-Hitlering Franz, and another less certain member of the breed, Liesl’s Rolf – Michael Campayno makes a good fit of him: he redeems his character a bit too.
Elsewhere everyone else is well-taken: CJ Wilson’s loathsome gauleiter Herr Zeller, Catherine Brunell’s Frau Zeller, Michael Park’s Baron Elberfeld, Paula Leggett Chase Baroness Elberfeld, and John Bolger as decent Admiral Von Schrieber who clearly loathes his being hired to order Captain Von Trapp to his command.
Other nuns – and they’re a fine chorus particularly in the Latin and the descanting elements are Georgia Stitt, Ashley Brown, Paula Leggett Chase, Linda Mugleston, Margot de La Barre, Laura Shoop, Sydney Morton, Wendi Bergamini, Cameron Adams, Rema Webb, Rayanne Gonzales, Andrea Jones-Sojola, Adrienne Danrich, Autumn Hurlbert, Catherine Brunell, Leah Horowitz, Gina Ferrall, Nikki Renee Daniels, Joy Hermalyn, and Stowe Brown.
Also featured are Shannon Lewis, Samantha Zack, Megan Sikora, Matt Wall, Ward Billisen, Marty Lawson, Alex Michael Stoll, Bob Gaynor, Karl Warden, Brandon Henschal, David Hull, Charlie Williams, Jennie Ford.
David Chase’s music direction deserves praise and Derek McLane’s design ensures a beautifully shot if sometimes cardboard mountain effect, richer and beautiful in abbey space with refulgent stained glass effects, and some beautifully lit rooms – all this courtesy of lighting designers Bob Barnhart and Ed McCarthy. Catherine Zuber’s costume design is attractive, clean, unfussy. Art director Kevin Rupnik Assistant Aimee Dombo deserve praise for the bright shadows the forests and abbey cast, and the sweep of the whole – there’s not so much one can do about mountains but they don’t look too bad. They score in anything near humanity. There is a little cardboard in the acting too, but stay with it; it gets better. And the singing – well, outstanding.
And this production has some delectable moments, the tear-jerking bits still tell you why this is such a tremendous musical. It’s about people like us, not long ago, fleeing the cusp of a catastrophe that murdered millions. The glittering ghost of Vienna it conjures was already gone, but to forsake that when traduced by brutalising occupation for the mountains with nothing but what you stand up in, is still overwhelming. Yes it certainly telescopes real events, and the film ratchets up the escape even more than the musical did, which takes not a few liberties – and quite right too.
But we have everything – a true story of an innocent woman on a quest who finds love when she’s forsworn it and a ready-made family but in the midst of danger, a danger still within living memory they must escape. It’s still one of the greatest musicals ever written, surely in the top three. Some fine acting by secondary cast members and phenomenal singing all round. A more than solid recommendation for that alone.