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Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Sound of Music*

With all the hubbub since Thanksgiving Day--hitting the deer and the aftermath (BOO!), finishing school (YEA!), starting on fixing up the house (YEA), job hunting (hurry up and wait), I really haven't had time to take in any cultural stuff.  I did watch Carrie Underwood in Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music the other night.  I now know how Siskel and Ebert felt when they had to sit through and review movies they didn't like with actors and directors they loathed/detested/despised. 

I'm going to give several  

First, to Carrie Underwood and her fans, friends and family: There is a place for people to cut their teeth acting. It's a place where mistakes are made and forgiven, where friendships are forged.  It's a place where you might even live next door to or be related to the director, and the people in the media who review the productions you're in may indeed be friends, coworkers or family.  There's nearly always a place for everybody. It's called community theater.  As one rises through ranks, the demands on one's talent become more stringent, the safety net of friends and family less helpful.  If one rises to the level of regional theater (Actors Equity) or (hushed whisper) Broadway, all bets are off.  You either make it or you don't.  Yes, Ms. Underwood took the risk of putting herself out there on live TV--but artists also need to learn not to expect universal adulation or even a parade in their honor every time they create.

Second, to NBC: With all of the outstanding live Olympic coverage you folks do (insert sarcastic snort here), you definitely could have been more on the ball with regard to the technical aspects of the show.  Overall, the sound was harsh, too loud, and unbalanced, and the singers were miked too closely.  In reading the numerous posts to social media, a comment I heard over and over was "Austrian soap opera". The sets in general were not properly lighted.

Third, to the creative team: Who made the decision not to use a live orchestra?  Using one would have probably solved more than a few problems the production had with regard to balance with the singers.  On the other hand, I LOVED hearing the songs from the show that didn't make the movie--which meant I didn't have to sit and squirm through "I Have Confidence", a song that is quite literally traveling music for Maria as she makes her way from the abbey to the von Trapp mansion and doesn't add anything to the story.

Fourth, to the vocal coach/coaches:  You are the sorriest bunch of schmoes I've ever witnessed.  EVERYBODY sounded strained, from Carrie and Audra on down.  I haven't witnessed so much forced singing since my days in Sunday School.

Fifth, to people complaining about an African-American woman playing an Austrian mother superior in a play set in the 1930's: Mother Theresa was born Albanian, trained in Ireland, and worked most of her life in India. Multi racial casting is here to stay.  Get over it.

Sixth, to Audra McDonald:  The next time you play this role, it would be good to remember a couple things.  First, just like nuns (religious women) live in community, TSOM is an ensemble show, and Mother Superior is a supporting role (although depending on who's playing it, the Tonys might bump it to a "featured" category).  A given religious community might refer to it as "first among equals". Dial the pipes back a couple notches, please. What has impressed me about the religious women I've known is their strength tempered by modesty, humility, and wisdom--far from being religious doormats, they are models for every woman to emulate.

Finally, just because I didn't mention the kids or the other adult roles doesn't mean I don't have things to say about them--but I would like to make some casting suggestions for the adult roles if someone decides to do this again in the near future.  Again, not that the roles below SHOULD be recast, just that it would be interesting seeing someone else's portrayal:

Captain vonTrapp: Hugh Jackman
Baroness Schrader: Marin Mazzie
Max Detweiler: Nathan Lane
Herr Zeller: Mel Brooks

*--Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, 1959.

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