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'The Sound of Music' live brings good ratings to NBC

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It’s official: “The Sound of Music” live smashed the ratings! Playbill.com is reporting that the Dec. 5th airing of the live “Sound of Music” on NBC was a ratings hit. They say that “TVMediaInsights overnight numbers show that the three-hour live event nabbed an overall 10.9/18 share in household ratings (one ratings point is equal to 1.142 million people). It opened with a 10.9 rating at 8 PM and held strong with a 10.5 rating through its final half hour. It dominated television ratings in each of its six half-hour slots last night, finishing in first place for each.”

The NBC network should be congratulated for their live broadcast of the time honored classic show. This was the first time in nearly 50 years that viewers have had a live broadcast of a musical production. It was a major undertaking and one that has been in development and rehearsals for months.

The original Broadway production of “The Sound of Music” opened in 1959 with Mary Martin starring as Maria. Then in 1965, the very successful movie version starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer was released. The movie moved some things around from the stage version and also removed some songs which were heard on the television broadcast last night. NBC tried to remain as true to the show presentation as much as possible.

The production took place on a sound stage located in New York. It is obviously a massive location and it provided plenty of room for the various scenes to unfold. The sets were nicely done especially a fountain and mountain backdrop used in several different scenes. High marks also go to some of the transitions such as the one where Maria leaves the VonTrapp home and returns to the Abbey. A few fell a bit flat but would have probably have been improved upon if this was a show that was going to continue on.

The casting was an interesting blend of veteran Broadway performers, an actor not known for his singing, and singer not known for her acting. It seems like the Broadway performers were brought on to do what they do best - give live performances. No matter what happens, they can keep the show going on and do it with great style. And it worked. Audra McDonald played the Mother Abbess. The five time Tony Award winner’s voice was outstanding especially during “Climb Every Mountain.” Tony winner Laura Benanti was a scene stealer as Elsa Schrader, the Captain’s fiancée who gets bumped out by Maria. Their years of stage training, hard work, and theatrical presence certainly came through and were huge assets to the production.

Speaking of hard workers, there were other Broadway veterans who also came through fabulously including Tony nominee Christiane Noll as Sr. Margaretta, Jessica Molasky as Sister Berthe and Elena Shaddow as Sister Sophia. The singing from the nun’s chorus was definitely a highlight of the show. Also Tony nominee Kristin Nielsen played Frau Schmidt, Sean Cullen was Franz, Michael Campayno played Rolf. Also adding to the action were CJ Wilson as Herr Zeller, Catherine Brunell as Frau Zeller, and Michael Park as Baron Elberfeld. Christian Borle, most recently of “Smash” fame, played Max Dettweiler. There were other fine performers who were seen throughout the show. And of course the children were right on target with their singing and playing their parts. Captain VonTrapp was played by Stephen Moyer of “True Blood” fame. His singing was very good and he played a firm Captain. But there was something missing in his portrayal of the man who moves from missing his deceased wife to finding to new love and an entire new life.

Country singer superstar Carrie Underwood played Maria. The American Idol with five Grammys and numerous other awards under her belt sang the show tunes with that strong very melodic voice that has sold over 15 million albums. There’s no disputing that she had the voice needed to play Maria. But what she did not have was the acting skill necessary to make Maria a warm, enthusiastic character. It is understandable since she has very little previous acting experience. But it didn’t seem like a lead role in such a well known classic was quite the place to cut her teeth in acting.

However, Ms. Underwood did bring a large audience to the show and one that might consider more musical theater. So for that, she deserves a pat on the back and a thank you from the community of people who hope that the ratings bonanza will lead to future productions that give musical theater more visibility and acceptance in television entertainment.

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