Carrie Underwood was miscast, though Audra McDonald and Laura Benanti shined

By Tom Gliatto
December 06, 2013 06:35 AM
Credit: Will Hart/NBC/Getty

NBC’s Sound of Music Live!, starring country star and American Idol winner Carrie Underwood as trilling, hill-hiking governess Maria von Trapp, was like a snow globe with scarcely any flakes.

You could turn it upside down and shake it, really shake it, but no magic ever swirled around that plastic Alpine scene.

I can’t imagine it supplanting the 1965 movie, with Julie Andrews singing of warm woolen mittens and larks learning to pray in a voice so purely crystalline it can induce brain freeze.

Underwood, in her first few scenes, suggested a towering Kristin Chenoweth, but her voice never had much distinction or strength, and her acting even less. When Maria began confronting her romantic feelings for Captain Von Trapp – moving beyond the asexual realms of the convent and the nursery – the emotions came trickling in unexpectedly like water under a doorway.

The part, as written, is actually rather skimpy and even interpretation-resistant. No one is expecting the “neurotic” Maria, the “delusional” Maria, the “enigmatic” Maria. What’s necessary, perhaps even more than a great voice, are a presence, theatricality and personality to make the part more than it is. In that regard, Underwood, despite her blonde wholesome sunniness, was miscast.

True Blood‘s Stephen Moyer, looking like F. Scott Fitzgerald fortified on a diet of vitamins and raw vegetables, didn’t have much more luck as the Captain. He did sing a nice “Edelweiss.”

Neither performer was helped by the fact that the production stuck to the original Broadway show, which premiered more than half a century ago. It was full of business that might be delightful or even exciting on a stage – nuns gliding about while singing their alleluias, characters racing up and down grand, sweeping staircases – but on a wide-screen television it tended to look like just that, lots and lots of stage business. The Von Trapp children kept rushing into group-hug formation as if they were a tiny football team in lederhosen.

Why was this done live?

Audra McDonald, in a nun’s habit, sang a tremendous “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” and Laura Benanti made a luscious and surprisingly sympathetic minx out of the Baroness.