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Saturday
Dec072013

American Horror Story: Sound of Music

This thing on my DVR was the 4th season pilot, right?  

I kid I kid. But horrified I was. If you miss live "events" it's difficult (one might say pointless) to write about them later so I promise to be quick about this. What I enjoyed far more than the show, which I caught a day later, was catching up on the articles and tweets about the show wherein people either hilariously skewered it or contorted themselves memorably to find nice things to say or excuse its Carrie Underwoodedness. Her acting was far far worse than I'd been told, recalling Julianne Moore's dead on approximation of porn star acting in Boogie Nights only dumber and with less of a nose drip to help with the dead eyes. I initially was surprised that Carrie wasn't oversinging it but the surprise soon faded because after the hills came alive with the sound of music she decided to shout-sing the rest. Not a wise choice when the poor girl couldnt even make it up and down the Von Trapp family staircase without breathing heavily. It was absolutely mean to pair her with musical performers as gifted as Laura Benanti and Audra McDonald, two of Broadway's richest voices... neither of whom ever need this silly oxygen thing to get through a long-ass musical phrase. Vampire Bill was a better match for Carrie (albeit not chemistry-wise) with his shaky voice bringing him down to her shaky-acting level (somewhat). 

I should say that I was less surprised than most people seemed to be that the stage musical is so different from the film. I've seen it performed live before and though critics are generally unkind to the film version it's one of those rare adaptations that improves on virtually everything from its source material structurally in terms of song order and character arcs and even in pacing though it's longer. Plus it's got Julie Andrews who you know, owns all when it comes to twirling around on mountaintops or believably portraying both sexual longing and religious piety in equally wholesome and relatable ways as Maria. I know it's uncool among cinephile's to consider it great cinema or whatever. But I do. Full stop. The Sound of Music became its best self in the translation to the big screen. 

we must've done something good to deserve the 1965 classic

The gargantuan ratings suggest that more "live" musical events are on the way. It has to be family friendly so why not Oliver! which could use the legacy resuscitation? Since giving the stuff away never seems to hurt actual sales of entertainment (weird, that) they could even do something that's about to be a movie like Annie or Into the Woods. Or why not something more contemporary that not everyone can afford to see on Broadway. Why not The Lion King or Wicked even since that movie is clearly never going to happen. I'm thinking about Wicked constantly these days because of its doppelganger Frozen and "Defying Gravity"'s doppelganger "Let it Go" , and because of these drawings by Oscar nominated animator Minkyu Lee, and the rumored Idina & Taye breakup (sniffle. is that true? they were so adorbs together) and the possibility that Idina might perform on Oscar night. I'd rather think about Wicked right now, okay?!  My beloved Sound of Music is in a hospital in Austria somewhere recuperating. It's a survivor. I have confidence it will live to spin on mountain tops once more.

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Reader Comments (21)

Cameron Diaz live-tweets cracked me up.

I do think Carrie had a lot to do with the ratings -- she's a star. She can't act, but she certainly draws eyes. So, there's that.

December 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBia

Thank you for this article. The 1965 Sound of Music was, and is and will forever be my most favorite movie of all time. As far as I can see from people's reaction to the show, they have just murdered the movie. Luckily I have no chance to see it and I don't intend to see it either. Wouldn't want to ruin the movie version for me.

December 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPJ

Oh, how unfortunate that you disliked it so much.

Carrie was certainly no ACTRESS but I thought she was fair in the acting and definitely on point with the singing. She's inconsistent and her inexperience shows but there are aspects she was above average in (interactions with the children, for example). Like most inexperienced actors she works best when surrounded by others and not emoting from inside, so I really liked her scenes with Audra, for example. I was pleasantly surprised whenever she'd get in a line-reading that worked to effect like her early on "I was giving permission to sing" while leaving the Abbey. (Although she got some easily line-readings a bit off, too like the awkward "I'll pray for you" to Elsa.)

Surprised you didn't like her singing, though. (Although everyone's mics started acting crazy, especially in the middle hour. Annoyingly, so.)

December 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew K.

the thing i took away from this article: taye diggs is single???

December 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterpar3182

Underwood's acting was abysmal, yes, but I thought her singing was quite good, honestly.

December 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTyler

I had never heard the Baroness/Max songs before, so that was fun.

It did make me appreciate the film even more. I like the way the film is so secular. It doesn't thump away at religion, class differences, or romance. It's like a gathering of artistic professionals who put their craft first. I see Plummer and Andrews not as a class different romance but a meeting of two artistic traditions: Shakespearean Plummer and Music Hall Andrews, that brings out what is bright, brisk, and entertaining in both traditions.

December 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteradri

andrew & tyler --maybe it's just a generational thing or an anti-American Idol thing. i've noticed that people's definitions of singing in the past 15 years seems to have shifted to be solely about big voices that can hit the correct notes. I mean that's more than i got but that's such a low bar for a famous singer! It's kind of a passe example now but i view it as the christina aguilera begat american idol syndrome. so many famous singers now with huge technically impressive voices but who can't do anything with them other than display them if that makes sense. Emotional content of songs seems to be WAY down the list of what people are going for or even appreciate. This is why i can't stomach American Idol which has had just so many musical atrocities committed that were endlessly praised where the "singer" just smiles broadly and sings in one volume and flourishes are only ever to show off the voice. no modulation. no understanding of song as story. etcetera.

[cranky] get off my lawn! [/cranky]

at least there are still popular singers with huge voices who get this. I love Adele and Pink, for example... and not sure if they're the best examples but they sprung to my mind just now, who both seem to understand emotional content and texture and variety while singing

December 7, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

When will you get back to writing about the real American Horror Story? The next episode will be the last one before their Christmas hiatus.

December 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

I was surprised it was as good as it was. One, it's the stage version of the show. Two, it was performed to CANNED MUSIC. Three, Carrie Underwood gets by on charm, heart, and one hell of a country voice, not actually performance skills. Vote for the Worst wasn't the only site guessing that she was a robot manufactured by American Idol to sing country music. Carrie needed something like an Anything Goes where she's mostly has to hit her mark and sing, not a show with actual emotions like The Sound of Music.

It was worth watching for Audra, Laura, and Christian Borle. I just kept pretending that Laura and Christian were the actual leads and they were bound to have another scene together any minute now.

December 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

I'm just a little worried that when Let It Go is nominated for the Oscar they ask Demi Lavoto to perform instead. Dumber things have happened...

December 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJonn

so the trend continues... "smash", "the sound of music"... let's watch nbc give kelly clarkson or kellie pickler the next leading role in something like this.

December 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermarcelo

I've enjoyed it enormously maybe because I'm not a big fan of Julie or the movie and here I could concentrate more in the supporting players. Audra and Laura were outstanding, Borle was great and the whole live thing worked almost flawlessly. Regarding Carrie, yes she can't act her way out of a box but she was alright since Maria as a character isn't much of a stretch for any actress.
I think there's a lot of cynicism in the reviews of this event. When it comes to musicals I keep my little kid eyes wide open and enjoy it as a little kid might and probably did. Why can't you all? There are so few occasions we can watch a musical on tv these days.

December 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSeisgrados

seisgrados -- but i shouldn't have to pretend to be a little kid! the best stuff can be enjoyed by all ages. The musical is just as much a valid artform as any other and so why should we be subject to people who aren't good at it? I don't want any more fancy editing to cover up that musical stars Can't Dance (Gere & Renee in Chicago) or excuses like "live tv" to deal with the Can't Act problem (Carrie in this, mcphee in Smash) or to listen to people who Can't Sing (Crowe in Les Miz) or what not. There are plenty of people who are great at all three things.

I do have hope that this is changing because musicals are far more common now than when i was a kid (the wasteland for the genre in the 80s. ugh. it was horrible) and there are so many famous people who are great at both acting AND singing (Reese Witherspoon, Joaquin Phoenix, Anne Hathaway, Amy Adams, Meryl Streep, Hugh Jackman, Oscar Isaac, Kristin Chenoweth, Eddie Redmayne, Audra McDonald, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Groff, and the list goes on and on and on and on....We can truly have it all. we just have to up your standards a little.

Jonn - i'm worried about that too but i'm hoping that the Oscar producers realize that people have actually learned who Idina is over the years through frequent projects and TV gigs. I mean they let Kristin sing so why not Idina?

December 8, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

@Nathaniel

You've obviously only heard a few of Christina Aguilera 's songs if that's what you think of her. SMH.

December 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

@Nathaniel, then how could you possibly like Let It Go? Pink is not a good example of someone with big impressive vocals. I would say Mariah, Whitney, Celine and Christina are the ones with these big impressive vocals. To Christina's credit, she uses her voice in a variety of ways and genres moreso than anyone you or I have mentioned. She does tend to oversing her ballads.

December 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

@Nathaniel, I agree with every point of your post. You don't have to put up with low standards concerning musicals, BUT neither Renee nor Gere ruined Chicago. Nor did Crowe ruined Les Miz, so I don't understand why the casting of Underwood (wrong casting we all agree) can diminish the many accomplishments of this live broadcast. The cynicism I'm referring too is the critics who, taking advantage of a poor lead actress choice, took down everything about the musical. I suspect they wouldn't have liked it even with Julie reborn in the lead. There are so many anti-musicals people walking this earth that we, musical lovers, must be benevolent to compensate.

December 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSeisgrados

I actually really love the IDEA of live musical television events but if they're all gonna be like this one.. yikes no thanks.

December 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

SIGH

I love Carrie, I have since American Idol, but I said since the beginning that she was not a good choice for this. And not just because Maria requires a very nuanced actress to pull off the role properly. I was rooting for her, but it was just not very good - she oversang, pushing way too hard, and the acting was worse than community-theater level (which I can say from personal experience).

If they wanted to go with a big country star, they should have just had Reba re-do Annie Get Your Gun, which come to think of it would be a great idea for the next one of these they do. But frankly, this one didn't need a big star in the lead. It was a hit mostly because it was The Sound of freakin' Music.

I'm glad it was a hit and am excited to get more of these, but I really hope they're better than this. When I was a kid I LOVED watching the live version of Peter Pan with Mary Martin, and I saw it again a couple of years ago and it really holds up. There's no reason these can't be great, especially with the level of high-profile talent out there. And really, Hollywood, if you can't find an established star who is a perfect fit, find someone new and MAKE ONE. Have you completely forgotten how to make a star? It seems to happen so rarely now.

December 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

One of the tweets I read that night was from someone who reminded me that there are LOTS of filmed LIVE events that have been aired on PBS and other networks in the past, and are excellent. I never saw INTO THE WOODS on Broadway, but I watched the American Playhouse version in 1991 on PBS. It can be done well, with the right cast.

To perform as a lead in musical theater, you need the troika of talent: singing, dancing, AND (poor Carrie) acting!

December 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPam

I thought Miss Underwood as Maria was ok. I had a hard time believing the transformation of the Captain from tyrant to loving father in what seem a blink of screen time. I do agree that the movie screenplay was an improvement on the musical book and the order of the songs in the movie make more sense.

December 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Ok, so Carrie Underwood was like a wooden toy soldier playing Maria in "The Sound Of Music Live!" (though in particularly fine voice). But compared to say, Whitney Houston's hilariously awful performance in the shit-fest "Bodyguard" or Mariah Carey's mind-numbingly mortifying turn in "Glitter," she was friggin' Meryl Streep. And it was "Live!" So some perspective, people.

I understand in the era of social media, everyone is an instant critic - and I surmise that no one would've been safe from the pummeling of the kind of insults Underwood received by the mere fiat of playing such a iconic role, but Underwood wasn't THAT awful - I mean, I see a lot worse on TV every week (e.g. Sarah Michelle Gellar STILL gets work!). She was robotic and sometimes looked like a deer in the klieg lights. But for the most part, her voice was pristine, sometimes beautiful (even with the accent creeping in) and, yes, far too often passionless. But considering it was her first time as an...ahem..."actress" - and against some stage giants (Audra and Laura are luminaries) - I'd say this could've been a helluva lot worse; she could've been Stephen Moyer.

And this is coming from someone who loathes Underwood's brand of country-politan shlock.

Oh, and since "Wicked" was one of the most wretched musicals I've ever had the grave misfortune of suffering through not once...not twice...but THREE times, I dread the thought of a film or TV version, so I hope that never comes to fruition. (Not sure they would cast Menzel or Chenoweth in either). Tony award or not, Menzel was a shrieking banshee all three times I saw her. She's not a very good actress and her vocals are rarely pleasing to the ear (just listen to that live CD she released this year!). Plus she was outsung by Lea Michele whenever she guest-starred on "Glee." To each their own, I suppose, but I never fathomed the lovefest for her.

December 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjeffreychrist

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