We've all seen endless commercials by now. You'd have to live under a rock not to know that NBC will present Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic musical, The Sound of Music, on Thursday (December 5) at 8 p.m. (EST), and it will be done live.
Maria, the misfit postulant in pre-war Austria, will be played by blond and lovely Carrie Underwood, a Grammy-winning singer who also placed first on American Idol. If you grew up watching the 1965 Julie Andrews film, you might not envision Miss Underwood as the ideal choice for this iconic role. But if, like me, you also grew up listening to Mary Martin's 1959 original cast recording, you might be inclined to give Ms. Underwood and company a chance. Which is what I did yesterday as I listened to the newly released Columbia Mastworks CD.
I've watched clips as the cast rehearsed for its one and only performance, a throwback to 1957 when Sound of Music creators, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, staged another live show, Cinderella, on CBS. And I expect to enjoy the telecast because the cast album is not only promising, it's frequently stunning, thanks to Ms. Underwood's vocal grace and mezzo timbre -- the role was composed for a mezzo -- and superior support from Audra McDonald as the Mother Abbess, Ariane Rinehart as Liesl, Michael Campayno as Rolf, Christian Borle as Max Detweiler, and Laura Benanti as Elsa Schraeder.
I know you're dying to know whether the British heartthrob who's the vampire on True Blood has a good voice. Stephen Moyer who plays Captain von Trapp has a light baritone, but he sings with understated warmth and conviction. A compelling Captain needs real dramatic chops as he makes a transformation from cold authoritarian to lovestruck hero, and I'm confident that Mr. Moyer will deliver.
This Sound of Music, which presumably uses the Broadway script with interpolations from the film (namely the duet "Something Good"), gives "My Favorite Things" back to Maria and the Mother Abbess (instead of Maria and the kids), and reinstates two sophisticated numbers that were cut from the film, "No Way to Stop It" and "How Can Love Survive," sung by Christian Borle (late of TV's Smash) and Laura Benanti. What a delight to hear two gifted Broadway stars, both Tony Award winners, perform these songs with panache -- with a bit of help from Mr. Moyer in "No Way."
Audra McDonald, another Tony winner, sings in a class by herself, her rich, classically trained soprano lending gravitas to her numbers with the nuns and her duet with Ms. Underwood. Ms. McDonald's "Climb Every Mountain" is the high point of the new recording, no pun intended. Her diction is superb as she infuses Hammerstein's stirring lyrics with passion.
The Von Trapp children played by Ms. Rinehart (Liesl), Michael Nigro (Friedrich), Ella Watts-Gorman (Louisa), Joe West (Kurt), Sophia Anne Caruso (Brigitta), Grace Rundhaug (Marta), and Peyton Ella (Gretl) blend nicely as an ensemble. On screen they're adorable -- okay, I watched the preview called "The Making of The Sound of Music" and fell in love with each of them! In "Do Re Mi," "The Lonely Goatherd," and "So Long, Farewell," they sound every bit as lyrical as the actors Robert Wise assembled for his film. Ms. Rinehart and Mr. Campayno, who plays her suitor Rolf, are charming in "Sixteen Going on Seventeen," and the pair can also dance, as I saw during the TV preview.
Conductor/Music Director David Chase brings the album together with loving finesse. His orchestra's rendition of "The Grand Waltz" is utterly sensuous, and hearing a thirty-eight piece orchestra is a major treat considering the current state of Broadway in which full orchestras are becoming rare.
I'm going to enjoy listening to The Sound of Music album with this TV company again and again. And to answer a question many fans are posing, do we really need another version? Of course we do. It's a pleasure to hear a new cast sing this classic score with fresh energy and verve.
Break a leg, Sound of Music cast members and production team! I'm rooting for you and the world will be watching.
Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are the Executive Producers of NBC's Live Sound of Music.
It will be directed by Rob Ashford and Beth McCarthy-Miller.