More than a week ago, I had a very long and complicated dream about me being in The Sound of Music Live! on NBC. The network had been promoting it so much that this was what weighed on my mind come sleepytime. The fact that the Sound of Music classic film, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, shaped my entire childhood (along with The Wizard of Oz and Grease, obviously), probably figured into this expression of my subconscious as well.
I resisted the idea of watching it, for fear of both retroactively ruining my memories of the movie and torturing my musical-phobic boyfriend. But then my sister posted on my Facebook wall asking if I was going to watch it. I thought for the first time: Hmm, maybe I am. I logged into my social media last night, sadly past the time of the performance of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” but mid-“Lonely Goatherd,” and saw almost nothing but hilarious, mostly snarky, occasionally affectionate, Sound of Music posting among my (pop culture-obsessed, heavy on the TV critics) friends. I gave in.
And while Carrie Underwood was in over her head acting-wise, and I disliked this script as compared with the film version, and Stephen Moyer is no Christopher Plummer, and it was downright boring at times (if you didn’t have Twitter), I must say that as a TV event, this thing was all up side for the otherwise beleaguered NBC. It was a Hail Mary that landed solidly — I personally imagine a pre-Vatican II-habit-wearing Audra MacDonald catching it easily as she belts out otherworldly notes. Here are the many reasons why it was brilliant:
1. It was review-proof. Guess what happens when you do live TV? You can’t send out screeners, because they don’t exist. Critics can tear it apart, but only the day after it airs, while the ratings roll in.
2. Live TV is henceforth and forever a spectacle. As soon as we figured out how to make taped TV, live TV became a thing. I loved seeing the actors on a stage set performing live like this because I’ve studied enough TV history to know this was what they always used to do in the early days. First because they couldn’t tape; and even sometimes after because they didn’t really know what to do with tape yet. Live-audience sitcoms were, and sometimes still are, like plays because that’s what made the most sense to the folks inventing television from scratch. In any case, now being truly live injects performances with a daring energy because there are no second takes. Even my musical-phobic boyfriend surprised me by declaring his support for this risky and inventive endeavor. I do wonder if next time they’ll consider a live audience, because it felt so weird to watch, say, Audra MacDonald murder “Climb Every Mountain” only to eerie silence.
3. Musical theater is fun. As noted, I grew up on musical theater and its film cohorts. (Mostly the film, as I was in the Chicago suburbs.) I love how ludicrous and entertaining it is — people breaking out in song for no reason rules. People singing for real is an awesome spectacle when done well. The folks on that stage last night were all old-school talented; Underwood may not be able to act, but she can sing. Many people have pointed out today that this ridiculous production probably introduced musical theater to lots of kids, particularly those who tuned in to see Underwood. That’s great. I’m as prone as anyone to moaning about how we give these roles to sparkly famous folk instead of the absolute best Broadway has to offer — no doubt Sutton Foster deserved this gig, and possibly would have come out a huge star. But I also understand that Carrie is a draw, and, hey, we all survived just fine, right?
4. Snarky live-Tweeting is also fun. I got sucked into the live-Tweeting, and that is extremely rare for me. It’s a genuine thrill, though, standing at the national watercooler in real time. Sometimes social media is great, despite its many drawbacks. And at least most of the people I saw Tweeting were snarky, but not too mean. That’s the sweet spot. The social media era was made for this kind of production, and I guarantee that was part of NBC’s plan. This is the best roundup of great Tweets. (Warning: It is both long and insanely addictive reading.)
5. NBC’s plan worked. Trending on Twitter makes you an “event” and forces people to watch in the moment or feel like they’ve missed out. It gets you around the DVR and streaming problems. That’s why only sports, singing contests, and awards shows can pull in decent numbers anymore. In this case, the ratings killed. 18.5 million is monstrous for these days. We’re so gonna see Grease Live! starring, like, Selena Gomez or something. And I’ll be watching.
6. P.S. Laura Benanti for every role, please! She played the Countess in this production, making it even harder than in the movie version to believe that the Captain would ditch her for Maria. (I adore Julie Andrews, and her chemistry with Plummer was off the chain in the movie, but I still find myself as Team Countess in my adulthood. That woman was gorgeous, had her shit together, was loaded, and was actually really cool — remember when she was the one who told Maria to jump the Captain already? This amazing McSweeney’s mock wedding cancellation letter says it all.) Benanti sang and acted the shit out of everything she had to work with here, and wore a killer dress. (Scroll down a bit here.) I loved her on Go On. Love her even more now.