The Sound of Music Fifty-Four Years Later
When was the last time that you really listened to The Sound of Music?
Musical theater enthusiasts tend to avoid mega-hits. We played them so much when we first came to know them, after we’d discovered this marvelous thing called The Broadway Musical. After umpteen dozens of times, we filed away the recordings and haven’t played them for decades.
These days, when we’re looking for something to hear, we tend to zoom right past any overexposed classic without giving it a sincere second’s worth of consideration. In many of our collections The Sound of Music is followed by South Pacific and then the London cast album of Spend! Spend! Spend! If our eyes happen upon the “S’s,” we’re most likely to choose the third one. If we’re in the mood to hear Mary Martin’s voice, we’re perversely inclined to reach for Jennie than either of her two blockbusters.
Here’s betting that the last time you played The Sound of Music was more than fifteen years ago – when the revival cast album of the 1998 Rebecca Luker-Michael Siberry production was released.
And while you listened to it – come clean! – you smiled to yourself, shook your head and said, “Well, this IS a great score.”
What’s more, you were reminded of the musical’s powerful drama, and I don’t just mean the Nazis. Almost immediately after the reluctant Maria has decided to follow The Mother Abbess’ advice and capitulates to her love for the Captain, she finds out that he’s just become officially engaged to Elsa.
Now we have another chance to once again concede what a great musical this is in what may well be our first 21st century listen to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s final score. It was spurred by The Sound of Music Live, as this broadcast on NBC-TV on Thursday, Dec. 5 was officially called (sometimes with an exclamation point, sometimes without).
So is this new Carrie Underwood-Stephen Moyer recording a soundtrack or a cast album? Granted, the general population believes they’re one and the same; many call ANY recording of a Broadway property a soundtrack. It’s become the go-to word for a theatrical recording.
We know better. Only a recording taken from a movie is a soundtrack – because it’s made from its track of sound. As Hapgood sings in Anyone Can Whistle, “Simple.”
But this new The Sound of Music can’t be a soundtrack, because it was recorded some time before the live air-date.
Therefore, it’s a studio cast album? Welllllll, yes and no, because that term implies performers who assembled simply to do a recording and then went home. But Underwood and Company stayed around to do a show.
And yet, what an important non-dress rehearsal for the live broadcast the studio recording session had to be! Whether you loved, hated or felt lukewarm about the broadcast, you would have liked it less if the cast hadn’t had that recording session to make them more secure in their roles.
“Cast album or soundtrack?” is a question that was also asked in 1957 when Julie Andrews and Company recorded their Cinderella album twelve days before their live broadcast. But this The Sound of Music Live offers another possible description that Cinderella didn’t have: a revival cast album.
Wellllllllll, yeahhhh – but shouldn’t that term really be reserved for recordings of productions that are meant to have open-runs? The Sound of Music Live — despite the musical’s sterling pedigree and reputation, its previous success with Tonys and Oscars — only ran as long as each of the Broadway runs of Billy, Gantry, Kelly and 1906’s biggest flop, that much-panned operetta My Wife Won’t Let Me: one performance.
Never mind all that, you’re saying — how’s this Underwood? Just fine on the album, thank you, mellifluous and lovely. Note in “The Lonely Goatherd” how she pronounces “table d’hote.” It’s quite European.
Those who doubted Underwood for not having any Broadway experience should remember that Marion Marlowe, the original Elsa, was a pop singer who was equally Broadway-deprived until she was cast.
Yeah, you’re saying, but Maria has substantially more to sing than Elsa. Okay – but remember how we initially turned up our noses at Laura Osnes for winning that vulgar contest to cast Grease? But ho-ho-ho, who’s got the last laugh, two Tony nominations and a Drama Desk Award now?
Moyer hasn’t been on Broadway, either, but he wasn’t as doubted because the Captain has far less to do. The irony is that he used to have even less. When The Sound of Music began its pre-Broadway tryout in New Haven in October, 1959, Hammerstein hadn’t yet written “Edelweiss.”
Playing Elsa had to be a profound full-circle experience for Laura Benanti. In October, 1997, a day after the eighteen-year-old had been cast as Amalia in a New Jersey production of She Loves Me, she was offered the Luker-Siberry Broadway revival, which she of course took. Never mind that she wouldn’t appear until Act One, Scene Thirteen, never say a word and be onstage only long enough to hear The Mother Abbess say, “Sister Sophia, take our new postulant to the robing room. Bless you, my daughter!” Exit stage right – and stay out until the curtain call. But it was Broadway, and who knows what a baby toe in the door would lead to?
Plenty. Before the run ended, Benanti was playing Maria. She’s since been in six Broadway musicals and won a Tony for Gypsy. Now, in the role that she once had to watch Jan Maxwell play night after night, she may make a legion of TV fans that missed her in such less-than-legendary series as Go On, Royal Pains and The Playboy Club.
As Max, the Captain’s apolitical entrepreneur-friend, Christian Borle will be a newcomer to TV-watchers, too. Yes, he served two seasons on Smash, but how many saw that anemically-rated series?
Benanti and Borle are terrific in the equally terrific “How Can Love Survive?” and “No Way to Stop It,” both of which the blockbuster 1965 movie had eschewed and spit out. What has been dropped here instead is Maria’s “I Have Confidence,” which I confidently say is fine with me. I hope the rumors are true that Richard Rodgers really didn’t write this song (or at least all of it) and that Saul Chaplin is more responsible. While I agree that Maria’s leaving the convent and suddenly being faced with who-knows-what is worthy of song, “I Have Confidence” is not the one I want to hear. I’m glad that this production parted company with it; the 1998 revival did not.
There are dog people and cat people, each ferocious in devotion. There are meat eaters and vegetarians, both of whom passionately give reasons for their lifestyles. Just as diametrically opposed are “Something Good” fans and “An Ordinary Couple” adherents. I’m a “Something Good” man myself, so I’m glad to have a third recording of one of Richard Rodgers’ late-career beautiful songs – for the 1998 revival wisely used it, too. Indeed, even a 1967 City Center revival substituted it.
Moyer and Underwood do well by it. Give them both credit for not being afraid to appear with plenty of people who have pounds of stage dust underneath their feet – especially Audra McDonald, who has more Tonys than Mickey Mouse has fingers on each of his hands.
McDonald starts the recording with a haunting version of “Preludium” and continues with a solid and beautiful “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” And for those who wished that the broadcast would have followed the famous film’s template, well, then you wouldn’t have heard McDonald sing “My Favorite Things,” would you? (Again: how brave of Underwood to duet with her.)
Either the broadcast or this recording may well be the first time during this December that you hear “My Favorite Things.” But it won’t be the last. Somehow – don’t ask me how – this has become a Christmas song. Is it the “silver white winters” line that makes it eligible?
Whatever the case, I have a feeling that this won’t be the last time in December that you listen to The Sound of Music, thanks to this spirited new however-we-label-it recording.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Friday at www.kritzerland.com.and www.mtishows.com. His books on musicals are available at Amazon.com.