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How do you solve a problem like Carrie Underwood?

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NBC’s labored version of “The Sound of Music” performed Thursday night proved many things. First, the term ‘live’ couldn’t have been any less appropriate for this D.O.A. production. Two, the movie version is far, far, far superior to the stage version. (Thank you, Ernest Lehman for your brilliant screenplay adaptation that sharpened the material and omitted the duller parts.) And three, Carrie Underwood is a good singer but not much of an actress.

And one couldn’t help but realize as Underwood’s performance lurched around over the course of the painfully long three hours, that there will never be another talent like Julie Andrews. Has there ever been anyone, before or since, who had such range, as a singer, dancer and actress –all rolled into one glorious performer? Quick, name another actress who could play both zany and serious? Posh and Cockney? A woman and a man? Often within a whisker of each other? Julie Andrews was truly a one-of-a-kind performer (

And after watching Underwood’s virtually humorless performance as Maria von Trapp, I realized how funny Andrews was in the role too. She was a delightful comedian, with impeccable skills and timing. And her willingness to look silly made the novelty number “The Lonely Goatherd” one of the absolute highlights of the movie. Heck, Andrews was even cuter than those adorable Bil Baird marionettes.

Watching NBC's ambitious but stiff and charm-starved production made me keenly aware of how Maria really is almost a musical comedy theater role looming as large as a Lear or Loman. It’s a truly tough role, requiring charming children one moment and then being able to stare down Nazis the next. Being believably virginal as a nun and yet able to lure the eye of Captain von Trapp away from the comely Baroness. And try as she might, Carrie Underwood just wasn’t up to the climb. Her Maria was merely competent; competent in the way the most charming cheerleader would play her in a high school production. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t ever going to touch the hem of Andrews’ curtained dress (

The inadequacy of this Maria and this version of “The Sound of Music” were as clear as Andrews’ five-octave range. When Maria is supposed to be able to delight everyone from captains to nuns, and here Laura Benanti’s Countess is eminently more alluring, all hopes are lost. And after Benanti and Christian Borle nailed their “How Can Love Survive” number I was hoping that she and Underwood would switch parts during the commercial break, but alas it was not to be.

Underwood was game and she certainly tried, but there was just too little there to idolize. But then who could hold an abbey candle to that which was Andrews’ Maria? She not only was able to sell some of Richard Rodgers' odd lyrics like “Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could”, but she could melt the stony iceberg that was leading man Christopher Plummer! Thus, Andrews’ Maria shall forever remain one of our favorite things.


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