12/09/2013 08:42 am ET Updated Feb 08, 2014

13 of My Favorite (and Least Favorite) Things About Sound of Music Live


Let me start by making one thing clear: long before it was ever trending on Twitter, my family was performing Sound of Music Live.

It was inevitable, really. My father is one of seven children and when they weren't being schooled by nuns, they were worshiping at the altar of Rodgers and Hammerstein, with the Von Trapp family front and center.

Two generations later, the family following is just as fervent. No joke, my sister Carly walked down the aisle to Maria's wedding march. At family gatherings, we have literally broken floorboards jumping around to "Do Re Mi," and have come darn close to breaking windows hitting the final note of "Climb Every Mountain." We twirl on every hill, dance in every gazebo and have never met a cloth napkin that did not make a fine makeshift habit.

So all that to say, the news of NBC's Sound of Music Live with Carrie Underwood was a big, bleeping deal for my family -- welcome to some, heresy to others. So when Thursday night finally rolled around, one faction took part in a principled boycott, while the rest of us tuned in at 8/7 central to judge, once and for all, whether this modern-day Maria was, to use the words of the nuns, a headache, an angel or just a girl trying to fill impossibly big shoes.

Of course, the first surprise for some family members, as well as many other viewers, was the fact that the stage version on which the broadcast was based is meaningfully different from the movie. When I had to read through the play in seventh-grade music class, it also shocked and bothered me that Sound of Music dared to exist prior to the film I knew and loved. (All the more bothersome was learning that the, ahem, "real" Von Trapps up in Vermont had criticized historical inaccuracies in the musical -- what the hell did they know anyway?)

But determined to be open to this new take on an old favorite -- after all, "the wool of the black sheep is just as warm" -- I hunkered down with a homemade habit (not kidding), a bottle of Grüner Veltliner and an unlimited texting plan to exchange notes with my family.

Without further adieu -- to yeu and yeu and yeu (sorry, couldn't help it) -- here is the list:

13 of My Favorite (and Least Favorite) Things About Sound of Music Live

  1. I'm glad Carrie didn't try to be Julie Andrews; she had to make the role her own. I only wish she hadn't instead chosen to channel a wooden marionette as an actress (or Doris Day for her Act 2 coiffure). But as a singer, I have to hand it to her: the fräulein can yodel.
  2. The sets were stellar. The lighting, not so much. The spoken passages were awkward enough, but the lighting made them feel like an '80s soap opera, or as my sister Carly put it, like Sound of Music on SNL. We kept waiting for a punch line. All we got were stupid Walmart commercials.
  3. Gotta hand it to those nuns, especially the formidable Mother Abbess (more on her next). But as my friend and co-spectator Zayna solemnly concurred -- also in a homemade habit -- there's only one, stern way to say "clown" in "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria." Sorry, sisters. No giggles or wide grins allowed.
  4. Back to Mother Abbess: Audra McDonald nailed it, as a singer and as an actress. A diva among divas, she knocked "Climb Every Mountain" clear over the Alps into Switzerland. Or from where they were filming, at least clear over Long Island Sound into Connecticut. But you get the idea.
  5. The dress that Brigitta declares the ugliest she has ever seen is actually the most attractive one Maria wears in the entire show. That includes her wedding gown, which Carly quipped was more "David's Bridal" than Tyrolean couture.
  6. Rolf and Liesl actually had chemistry in the remake. Prost to that! In the original, I always had the feeling that it was really Friedrich's lederhosen that Rolf wanted to get into.
  7. Seriously, how can kids raised in mountains be such sissies in thunderstorms? Having grown up in the Catskills, this has always troubled me.
  8. Christopher Plummer left big shoes to fill as Captain Von Trapp (and apparently big costumes, too -- on Oprah's Sound of Music reunion special, I learned that he had to have all his costumes sized up mid-production because he'd grown a bit too fond of Austrian beer). But the hunky Stephen Moyer delivered. Sure, he was a bit stiff, but what do you expect of an actor who spends most of his time playing an undead?
  9. Can't say the same of Laura Benanti as Baroness Schraeder, though. She's talented and all, and I really tried hard not to compare her to the icy Eleanor Parker in the film. But in the end, this dark-haired, trouser-sporting, corporation-heading baroness proved too stark a contrast with the regal blonde bee-yatch I've so loved to hate over the years. Sorry, Laura. You just weren't dislikable enough.
  10. In theory, it was a good idea to include "Something Good," a song that was written specifically for the movie. But they should have stuck to silhouettes for all that smooching. Once again, my sage sister put it best: BLECH!
  11. Major props to Kurt. But Epic Gretl fail. I know that's uncharitable since she's a little kid, but like Brigitta, "I cannot tell a lie."
  12. Slick transition from the foyer of the Von Trapp home to the Salzburg Music Festival. But let's talk about that festival for a minute. I know it was post-Anschluss and all, but to paraphrase my cousin Sarah, was it really necessary to make a grand imperial theater look more like the set for a Nazi TED Talk?
  13. The second-prize winner at the festival was entirely too glamorous. And she should have bowed at least a dozen times more. Is this a petty detail? Perhaps, but let's be honest -- what else were we die-hard fans fixating on Thursday night?

Grumbles aside, I have to admit that I had a grand, old time watching this ambitious feat unfold (naturally over a dinner of tofu schnitzel and a cauliflower creation that I convinced myself was a representation of edelweiss). And I also applaud NBC and the whole cast and crew for breathing new life into a classic that many, including some of my kin, consider sacrosanct. After all, I realize it's not everyone who gets to see Sound of Music performed live at every family gathering.