Like millions of Americans last week, I took to social media to heap scorn upon The Sound of Music Live. We are now in that next predictable phase of pop culture ephemera: the backlash to the backlash, wherein the production’s defenders scold its attackers.
So it’s incumbent on me to tell these people THEY ARE WRONG. No, not really. But I do want to explain exactly why I and so many others (if I may speak for them) found the production so objectionable.
I should note up front that I love the original movie, in all its glorious kitschiness, but I don’t consider it a sacred cow or anything.
Second, I am not an American Idol viewer or a fan of the style of music it promotes. I could not name a single Carrie Underwood song, though I imagine a tune or two of hers may have seeped into my subconsciousness.
But I do hate bad theater. As an actor, I have sat through more than my share of it (and sometimes I’ve contributed to it!).
Carrie Underwood is clearly a talented singer, but I could not get past her wooden acting, nor the odd choices of the actor playing the Captain. And the two had zero chemistry, which is a real shame in what’s supposed to be a love story.
Those are pretty important things, and hard to get past, but throw in the weird lighting and costuming, which looked like the kind of thrift shop wardrobes small storefront theaters typically acquire, and you have all the makings of a train wreck.
Yes, I Piled On
So I joined in on Facebook and Twitter, merrily “eviscerating” the production. Among my comments:
So in this version of Sound of Music, the nazis are the good guys?
— Rob Biesenbach (@RobBiesenbach) December 6, 2013
You could cut the sexual tension between Maria and the Captain by waving your hand a bit to stir up a gentle breeze #TheSoundOfMusicLive
— Rob Biesenbach (@RobBiesenbach) December 6, 2013
I don’t pretend those tweets are marvelously witty. (For a truly laugh-out-loud analysis, I suggest you check out this review in Vanity Fair.)
Did I (and others) go overboard? Maybe. It’s easy to get caught up and carried away in a mass online bludgeoning.
Still, I’m dismayed at the Sound of Music defenders—many of them actors I know—who are treating the TV production with the kind of reverence that some of us would argue should be reserved for the original.
So here are my responses to the most common arguments I’m hearing in support of the production.
1. People are Mistakenly Comparing it to the Movie
Yes, I’m aware that this production was based on the original Broadway play and not the movie. Not having seen the play myself, I was actually intrigued by the differences between the two.
So no, I was not comparing Sound of Music Live to the Julie Andrews film. I was comparing it to my reasonable expectation of the kind of acting and production values that an effort of this scale and budget should have.
2. NBC Should be Applauded for Taking a Risk
NBC did NOT take a risk. The network cast a bankable pop culture megastar in the lead role. A risk would be casting a pair of stage actors nobody’s ever heard of in the lead roles.
If it’s not clear, NBC is in the business of making money. Period.
3. NBC Should Be Applauded for Promoting the Arts
Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s wonderful that they attempted this at all. But this was NOT an act of charity on NBC’s part. It was not a public service to the arts community.
Once again, NBC is in the business of making money.
4. The Cast Was Brave for ‘Putting Themselves Out There’
Really? Is this what our definition of bravery has come to? The actors were hired to do a job and likely got paid handsomely for their efforts. And, yes, Carrie Underwood clearly worked hard to do the best she could.
But a solid work ethic and lot of gumption does not a quality production make. And I don’t know too many people in the Chicago theater community, as wonderful and supportive as it is, who would happily work alongside an actor who was cast based on moxie instead of talent. Directors and actors want to work with people who have the necessary performance skills and who won’t let them down.
5. This Exposed New People to Live Theater
There’s been a lot of talk about all the people who have never seen live theater—particularly “lower middle class people.” I’ll put aside the question of whether a deficiency of theater-going is a problem that ranks up there with finding a job and putting food on the table.
I think the bigger issue is, if we’re going to bring the magic of theater to new audiences, shouldn’t we want that first experience to be truly excellent? Something that really showcases the wonders of theater, and leaves them wanting more?
6. We Must Support It; This Hasn’t Been Done Since the 1950s!
You know what else was done in the 1950s? Black and white broadcasts. Mediocre sound and picture. Lead actors stepping out and endorsing products in the middle of the broadcast.
Why are people reflexively assuming this concept is a good thing because it was done a half a century ago? Media has changed, technology has changed, audience sensibilities have changed.
I personally found the whole experience odd. It was not quite theater and not quite TV—a weird sort of hybrid. Maybe if an audience had been there it would have livened things up. Though that would undoubtedly present technical problems (which may be an argument for why this is a bad idea).
7. All this Criticism Will Stop NBC From Trying This Again
Honey, please. Let me repeat: NBC is in the business of making money. They managed to attract 18.5 million viewers. If they made money on this production, they will do it again. And maybe, just maybe, with this criticism they’ll be a little more conscious of their choices next time.
Though I doubt it. “Stunt casting” is alive and thriving on Broadway, after all.
It’s Okay to Love the Sound of Music Live
Was there anything I liked about the production? Of course. As everyone on the planet agrees, Audra McDonald was excellent. The children were mostly charming. Carrie Underwood sang very well.
But the other problems were, for me, impossible to overlook.
So let’s make a deal. If you don’t think I’m a terrible person for disliking the Sound of Music Live I won’t think you’re an idiot for liking it. We can agree to disagree.
Just don’t think the detractors are a mindless mob who haven’t thought this through. Many of us have. And, according to the new American tradition, we spoke with our tweets.