Last night, NBC did something that hadn't been done since 1957. They dared to do a live performance of the Sound of Music. What an undertaking. Huge. The confines of a warehouse space and multiple sets. Rehearsing for months and one shot, that's it. NBC promoted the hell out of it. Why wouldn't they? They have spent millions to mount the production. In order to get it produced, they had to hire a name. They hired Carrie Underwood to star as Maria Von Trapp. Really? Carrie Underwood. She walked away as the first country singer to win American Idol and has sold millions and won multiple awards since for her albums. She sells out arenas globally and she is stunningly beautiful. They needed a star. She's a star. They hired, for her love interest, Steven Moyer from the series, True Blood. Audra McDonald, former client of mine and a 5 time Tony winner, was cast as the Mother Superior. The cast was flooded with many New York theatre actors playing many of the smaller roles. Christian Borle and Laura Benanti as Herr Detweiler and Elsa. The excitement was mounting for weeks whether you cared or not. NBC showed clips from rehearsals, interviews, and background shots. Last night was the night.
At 8pm the incredible music from Rodgers and Hammerstein began. It is a beautiful soaring score. The excitement was palpable. (They produced the stage version, not the movie version). No sooner did the production begin and Carrie Underwood began singing the theatre nastiness came out. It was like reading Talkin' Broadway live but on Facebook. (Talkin' Broadway is a website where people tear down shows and performers from the first second they step on stage). It's nasty and bitchy. So was this. There were so many comments on Facebook tearing down every aspect of the production. I know that everyone has the right to their opinion but it seemed so incredibly mean-spirited and God forbid you have FB friends not on the East coast, you took them all out and popped their bubbles before it even began in two thirds of the country.
I really was stunned by the vitriol. Do you realize that you are all the reason we are where we are in theatre? If you wouldn't support theatre with stars in the leading roles, producers wouldn't make money hand over fist. The more money producers make with stars leading the casts of shows, makes them believe that shows can't happen without a "name." Have you bought your tickets to A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder on Broadway yet? No stars in it. Great, great talent. Rave reviews, some of the best of 2013. TIME magazine picked it in their top 10 of 2013, but because there aren't huge names, it ridiculously struggles at the box office.
So, NBC hired a big name in country music. They promo'd Carrie Underwood's performance for weeks. Nary a mention of Audra McDonald or any other actor. The show rested solely on her shoulders. She has never set foot on a stage before and was cast and accepted one of the iconic roles in musical theatre. Carrie Underwood took a chance. She had more to lose than anyone. She didn't need to do this. She makes tons of money in country music. I think it was really brave of her. I don't care if she rehearsed everyday for 6 months. She has never acted, ever.
So the sharp pencils came out from the first note. Facebook people and, I presume Tweeters, tore Carrie Underwood down. Few mentioned Steven Moyer whom I think was far more miscast. So, where do I go from here? I think it's fantastic that Craig Zadan, Neil Maron, and NBC produced The Sound of Music live. I think it's an incredible feat. It went as smoothly as my eye could see. I would hope that spoiled theatre lovers would support this kind of venture. Not everyone in America has the opportunity to come to New York City or see National Tours. They are expensive.
So, if you want to let your dollars lead the way, support the shows without big stars. It's the only way things will change, but put your claws back in. No matter what, it is still the Sound of Music.
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