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Review: Live Broadcast & New Recording of “The Sound of Music”

December 6th, 2013 Comments off

Contributor Scott Redman reviews the live broadcast of  The Sound of Music.

Carrie Underwood in "The Sound of Music." (photo: Will Hart/NBC)

Carrie Underwood in “The Sound of Music.” (photo: Will Hart/NBC)

Truth be told: Last night NBC attempted a feat nearly impossible: a live telecast of the Broadway musical, The Sound of Music. Was it amazing? No. But was it inspiring and nostalgic to see a musical brought to life before your eyes on primetime television? Absolutely. The thought of wrangling and organizing the logistics seems overwhelming in such a multi-layered project.

The “live” factor of doing a musical has many variables: multiple scenes, costume changes for the lead characters, synching the orchestra with the singers, timing commercial breaks, etc. It was interesting to see the show come together in real time and view the natural mishaps destined to occur on a live telecast. At one point a man stepped on Elsa Schraeder’s dress (played eloquently by Laura Benanti) during the dinner party scene and she gave him a sordid glance to let go! It was also enjoyable to see Broadway favorites Christiane Noll (Ragtime) and Jessica Molaskey (Sunday in the Park With George) in nun habits as well as silk-voiced soprano, Ashley Brown (Broadway’s original Mary Poppins) standing in the corner with a serving tray graciously playing a maid! The stars came out full force to support this endeavor, which reportedly cost NBC an estimated $9 million to produce.

Carrie Underwood stars as Maria and gets an A+ for effort and bonus points for having the gumption to play a role originally created on Broadway by Mary Martin and most famously portrayed by Julie Andrews in the original feature film. Underwood’s voice is plenty big enough to give the songs “The Sound of Music,” “My Favorite Things,””Do-Re-Me” and “The Lonely Goatherd” the power and precision they deserve. Her acting never quites makes the transition from postulant to governess to wife and stepmother. Many of her lines are delivered in monotone sound bytes as if she is a talking computer program. Stephen Moyer as Captain von Trapp is dashingly handsome and has a sense of command about him but plays his scenes without nuance and fails to establish a true connection to the other actors. Moyer and Underwood have very little on-camera charisma as a couple and it felt awkward seeing them kiss.

The Trapp kids are charming and look and sound just fine. Araine Rinehart is a stand out as Liesl, the oldest in the lineup who is slow to warm up to Maria’s antics. Rinehart embodies the youth and vibrance of what the future of Austria could be if the Anschluss wasn’t knocking on the back door. Michael Campanyo as the gentleman caller, Rolf, does a fine job and the dance sequence during “Sixteen Going On Seventeen” is one of the most captivating moments in the telecast, which ends with the two young lovers rolling down the mountainside entangled together.

Jessica Molasky as Sister Berthe, Elena Shaddow as Sister Sophia, Audra McDonald as Mother Abbess, Christiane Noll as Sister Margaretta. (photo: Will Hart/NBC)

Jessica Molasky as Sister Berthe, Elena Shaddow as Sister Sophia, Audra McDonald as Mother Abbess, Christiane Noll as Sister Margaretta. (photo: Will Hart/NBC)

The supporting roles, all played by Broadway’s leading men and women, add credibility to the production. Audra McDonald is a powerhouse and sings “Climb Every Mountain” with a rich and smooth delivery. McDonald’s experience shines through the often low caliber camera and sound technology that surrounds her. In a pre-broadcast interview, Underwood described McDonald’s voice as if “butterflies were flying out of her mouth.” I couldn’t agree more. McDonald is a no-fail actress that can tackle any role given to her.  Christian Borle’s performance as Max twirls his mustache a time or two too many and has a cartoon swagger about him. Laura Benanti adds a needed elegance playing the Baroness, Elsa Schrader. Benanti has a natural edge for the camera and a voice that matches her prowess.

In terms of production value, scenery was constructed in a way that made live filming possible, yet it at times felt thin. There were a couple of transitions where directors Rob Ashford and Beth McCarthy Miller embraced the theatricality of the show by flying out a wall from the von Trapp mansion to reveal the walls inside the Abbey or pulling back a drape to reveal the stage at Kaltzberg Festival. It was during these brief moments where the team embraced the medium of television while keeping the theatrical sensibility of the musical form intact. Sound effects, better lighting and sound engineering would have given texture and filled the occasional static void between dialogue.

soundofmusic_recordingA cast recording of the telecast score has also been released and beautifully captures the golden melodies and poetic lyrics of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. The music supervisor, David Chase, has done a fantastic job recreating the original score. Doug Besterman has revised the original orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett into a symphonic sounding dream. Kerri Underwood’s talent is best showcased here as a vocal recording artist rather than musical theater actress. The new recording will be a welcomed addition to anyone who is a fan of The Sound of Music.

The Sound of Music is one of the most beloved musicals of all time and was the last collaboration between the legendary song writing team Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hamerstein II. The original film has become the epitome of “family movie night” and has spurned the notorious movie-sing-a-longs that have created a sub-culture of their own. (Ted Chapin, President of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, makes note of this in his recording linear notes.) Whether or not the telecast could have been better is somewhat subjective but it still is a coup that the broadcast exposed a brand new generation to the spirit of musical theater and the American masterpiece, The Sound of Music.

 

Who You Calling a Little Tramp?

January 8th, 2013 Comments off

The Broadway Blog welcomes contributor Scott Redman, who offers his take on the Original Broadway Cast Recording of “Chaplin, the Musical.”

“Chaplin,” the bio tuner based on the iconic silent film star Charlie Chaplin, closed its Broadway run Jan. 6 but the show lives on via a cast recording produced by Masterworks Broadway, a division of Sony Records.

The musical colors Charlie Chaplin, a respectable Rob McClure in the title role, from black and white beginnings in dreary London into a Technicolor Hollywood where he searches for happiness and success in the pictures. The laborious musical attempts to tell his entire life story from boyhood to senior. Chaplin’s life is great material for a musical — humble beginning turned to fame, fortune, exile, etc. Unfortunately the show’s recording mirrors the same problems it had at the Barrymore Theatre — a lack of focus and style. “Chaplin” delivers a pastiche and often-generic sounding score that doesn’t sound like anything new or unique.

The opening number, “Look at All the People” performed by Charlie’s mum, a clear voiced Christiane Noll, sets up the mother–child relationship but doesn’t launch the show or create an energy to frame the musical. The second number continues with a vaudeville drinking song also performed by the mother. Listening to the first few tracks I found myself waiting for the show to start and asking, “Who is this show even about?” Its not until Charlie arrives in Tinseltown does the action of the play really get going.

Once Chaplin moves to Hollywood the score becomes predictable with tracks “Just Another Day in Hollywood” and “Life Can be Like the Movies.” These numbers are bouncy and resemble the period but lacks content to drive the plot forward or develop the characters into something the audience can empathize.

At the end of the second act Charlie meets Oona O’Neil played by Erin Mackey who delivers an emotionally robust ballad, “What Only Love Can See.” Its here where you imagine the potential of what this show could have been with stronger lyrics and song spotting.

“Chaplin,” released by Masterworks Broadway, is available on iTunes or Amazon.
A national tour is scheduled for 2014 as well as a production in São Paolo, Brazil.
Visit www.chaplinbroadway.com for the latest updates.

TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: Fall Preview 2012, The Musicals

September 5th, 2012 Comments off

The Cast of "Chaplin". Photo by Joan Marcus.

Buckle up, boys and girls! The theater season is about to get up and rolling so we’ve got a two part preview of the tunes and tears the Great White Way has to offer through the end of the year. Since the first show out of the gate post-Labor Day is a musical, let’s start with a closer look at the originals and revivals singing and dancing onto Broadway during the rest of 2012.

On a quick glance, the slate is…well…a bit like the island of misfit toys; a curiosity chest of pieces with unusual histories from less than name brand writers. But one never knows until the curtain goes up what we truly have in store; the oddest ducks (or Cats) can sometimes turn out to be blockbusters.

Chaplin (September 10): One of Hollywood’s first mega-stars gets the first slot of the season in what promises to be a splashy theatrical biography. The biggest news is that the lead is being played by a relative unknown (almost unheard of in these marquee driven times), Rob McClure. Also in the plus column, a book co-written by musical vet Thomas Meehan (Hairspray) and supporting turns from the recent Closer than Ever dynamic duo Jenn Colella and Christiane Noll…as well as our very own Theater Buff, Wayne Wilcox.

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TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE: “Closer Than Ever”

August 1st, 2012 Comments off

Every first Wednesday of the month, get caught up with what’s on stage with our review round-up. And that vaguely hollow, clinking sound you hear at the end of each segment? That’s me tossing in my two cents. This month, we have two shows worth cheering about. Let’s look at one today and one when it opens tomorrow…

Jenn Colella & Danny Weller in "Closer Than Ever". Photo by Carol Rosegg.

CLOSER THAN EVER

The classic Maltby & Shire musical revue — if you are a theater lover over the age of 35, you probably know the original cast album by heart — gets revived in a new production at Off-Broadway’s York Theater Company.

“…among the abundant charms of this pocket-size 1989 revue, now getting a polished revival by the York Theater Company, is its assertion that folks with a few miles on the odometer also have stuff to sing about.” New York Times

“…a wonderfully performed revival …” New York Daily News

“…bejeweled masterpieces … The texture is unmistakably eighties—but, in case you haven’t noticed, that’s the decade we appear to be reliving.” New York Magazine

“…its 26 exquisitely crafted songs – each of which presents distinct scenarios about various middle-aged individuals – together make for an absolutely exquisite and exhilarating theatrical experience.” AM New York

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