“It’s quite different after you’ve grown up”
The hills are alive, with the sound of questions. Like, why. The UK’s first fully live musical theatre television broadcast saw ITV produce Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music though the result was a curious experiment that fell uneasily between two stools. Lacking the crucial energy that propels the best live theatre (which comes from an audience too), the production values (though often impressive) naturally fell short of the opportunities of filmed work
Which ultimately begs the question, what’s the point. Is the UK hankering for a new production of the show? It’s hardly as if we’re lacking for productions popping up regularly in theatres across the land. Is it showcasing the best of British musical theatre talent? In that case why cast someone like Strictly winner and former Eastender Kara Tointon as Maria and shunt the likes of Julie Atherton (one of the most outstanding performers we have, bar none) into the nun ensemble.
In the end, celebrity wins out – some might say, much like the West End – and Tointon wasn’t bad. But for me, she lacked much of the lightness and vibrancy that marks the best Marias. And though TV bosses might have been pleased with the recognition factor of Alexander Armstrong and Mel Giedroyc as Max Detweiler and Frau Schmidt respectively, neither did anything to really distinguish their performances from their public personae (Mel practically winking into the camera).
All of which diminished the whole enterprise for me. There’s no doubting the scope of the ambition of director Coky Giedroyc, marshalling a cast and crew of more than 400, and juggling 177 costumes across 3 sets at the Three Mills studio. But it rarely excited me, capturing nothing of the hugely romantic quality that the Open Air Theatre’s amazing 2013 production or the timeless charm of the famous film,
Julian Ovenden was good rather than great as the Captain and I liked Katherine Kelly in the rather thankless role of Baroness Schraeder, but there was sparkling work from Evelyn Hoskins as a perky Liesl and the purity of Maria Friedman’s voice was ideally suited to the soaring range of the Mother Abbess. The rest of the von Trapp kids were good too, little Marta recovering well from her trip, the only real hiccup I think in the live broadcast.
The mind keeps going back to why though. For all the superficial benefit of showcasing musical theatre on primetime on a major channel, I just can’t see this Sound of Music luring any newcomers to a theatre, not least because of the lack of connection with anything in a theatre right now (or indeed any of these actors actually appearing on stage anytime soon). And as a model looking ahead, it feels like a fruitless artistic endeavour when the product is as sterile as this.
You could watch this on catch-up but I’d recommend holding on until Gypsy airs on Sunday, filmed live at the Savoy it ought to prove a much more theatrical treat for Christmas.