Music: Richard Rogers
Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II
Book: Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse
Directors: Rob Ashford and Beth McCarthy-Miller
Let’s start at the very beginning. It’s a very good place to start. When you sing you begin with ALW. The dark lord has apparently run out of his own shows to stream (mercifully we were spared Madonna’s Evita) and so now he has chosen to stream other people’s musicals, beginning with a TV version of The Sound Of Music. It’s a very good place to start.
This live production, starring Carrie Underwood as Maria, was first shown in the US by NBC in 2013 when TV live musicals were all the rage. We had our version in Britain with Kara Tointon in the main role at Christmas in 2015, receiving mixed reviews. Both of these live productions take their inspiration from the stage musical rather than the movie, and so there is much to enjoy, even for those who know the film inside out.
The first difference comes quite early when the Mother Abbess tells Maria that she is to become a governess for the van Trapps, and both break out into These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things. It comes as a surprise as we are so used to it being sung by Maria and the children as a way to ward off fear of a raging storm. The storm does appear, but instead the cast song The Lonely Goatherd to keep their spirits up.
A few songs, which never made it into the film, appear such as How Can Love Survive and No Way To Stop It, which are fine, and if the tunes sound a little insipid then the lyrics, of the first of these songs especially, make up for it. But it’s mainly business as usual, and it would be foolhardy to tinker around too much with such a winning formula and as such Do-Re-Mi is performed just as joyously as the film.
At first Underwood’s American accent, brash when compared to Julie Andrews’ English diction, is hard to get used to, and her Maria is more confident and less naive than the one we are so familiar with. But by the time she meets her seven charges, Underwood’s resolve sweeps away any doubts we may have and she gives a strong performance, always in good voice and deftly overcomes an early stumble coming down from the hills of music. Overall, it’s a good turn by Underwood who won American Idol in 2005.
Stephen Moyer, as Captain von Trapp, is less steady and while his acting is assured – you can really believe his journey from distant parent to loving father – his voice isn’t always perfectly in tune, especially in the parts that he can’t belt out. Singing in tune is not a problem for Audra McDonald who plays the Mother Abbess and her Climb Every Mountain is just as exciting as Peggy Wood’s in the film. McDonald is mesmerising throughout, even from underneath her wimple.
The children are excellent, too, and if any of them miss a cue it’s not apparent in the film, which is very slick, and the scene changes from the Castle to the Abbey are mini-dramas in themselves. Of course, this TV production makes good use of the advert breaks to regroup, and organise other scene changes. Thankfully, there are no commercial breaks on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s YouTube channel and so, in comparison to the film, this version at just over two hours is quite snappy.
There may be a few cold-hearted individuals who never warmed to the film, but for everyone else this is the perfect bank holiday entertainment. Obviously, it’s not as good as the film, but it’s a quality second best.
Runs here until 24 May 2020