Friday, December 6, 2013

The Tweets of Music

"What the f**k did I just watch?"

That was the serious question I posed to myself at the conclusion of yesterday's 3 hour tour through Rodgers & Hammerstein's Sound of Music Live! I asked myself that question not because I hated it (by its conclusion, I decided I enjoyed it very much) but because I wasn't actually sure what it was. It was a "live television musical event," but what IS that? It's not a movie, but it's being filmed. It's not a staging of the classic movie version of Sound of Music, but the stage musical version of Sound of Music that came before the film. But it's also not a live performance happening in a theater. The action is happening on multiple sets in a sound stage. There's no live studio audience so there's no applause and there's no energy for actors to feed off of while performing live. The actors are essentially performing in a vacuum, save for each other and the camera crews. There are commercial breaks throughout the performance which affect the natural flow of a two-act/one intermission stage show. So ultimately, what IS THIS?? The best I can come up with is: It's... unique! It's a "live television musical event." Cozy up on the couch, open the social media site of your choice and live-blog about it to to your heart's content! That's what live TV is for!

There's a bit of debate (mostly online, ironically) as to whether snarky live tweeting is "fair" to the production or the performers involved. Are we really allowing ourselves to experience the piece as a whole if we're constantly throwing out our opinions to the interwebs, picking things apart before we've allowed them to sink in. Personally, I think it's totally fair and a delightful part of the communal TV watching experience to live tweet. If you don't want to be involved, don't be! At a live theater, I would never act that way. But creatively riffing on something that is happening live is its own sort of improv skill. I think it should come from a good place in our hearts though. We kid because we love. Taking the piss out of something doesn't mean we don't ultimately appreciate it. As I said to a friend online, Shade isn't hate, it's just shade. If you can only complain and not not enjoy it, you should spend three hours doing something else.

Overall, I thought  Sound of Music Live was a huge success for NBC. Nobody tripped down the sets giant stairs (despite my urging), nobody forgot their lines, the camera work and sound work were pretty much always on point, the sets were great, Broadway stars were out in force on screen and there was a live musical on network TV in  prime time! And the network promoted the hell out of it and millions of people watched. So they'll probably do another musical in the future, because seriously, what else does NBC have that pulls those numbers? Pretty much nothing! So nice job, everyone.

And naysayers, keep in mind this was an experiment! No one would know if the live show would work at all, and some things worked really well! And for the things that didn't, why not be a force for good and point out the obvious flaws so when they do it next time there's a public record of what areas could be improved? It's our DUTY as musical theater lovers to tweet and post our FEELINGS! Just put some thought into your thoughts, you know?

God Bless, Carrie Underwood. She is not a trained actress, and her line readings especially in the first half of the show were ROUGH, but I applaud the effort. She was trying. I could see she was trying. I felt she was invested. She was stretching as an artist. There was no sense of her just going through the motions. No glazed over eyes while her scene partners were talking. She had one performance to nail everything. No previews. No safety net. All eyes on her. Whether you think she was miscast, she still fully committed to this 3 hour journey. There was no turning back. Even a high school production would let the kids have 3 or 4 shows over a weekend to settle in and get some perspective on what they're doing. I was left with the impression that she started out very nervous and as things went on, she relaxed. I also felt that given the opportunity to keep playing  the role, her confidence would build and her performance would improve. I'm not discounting the shortcomings, I'm just applauding the risks she took professionally in taking on the role and for investing herself in it. She knew she'd be opening herself up to a lot of scrutiny and she did it anyway. And her attachment to the project brought a lot of eyes to TV screens.

PLUS there were the highlights of the night in Audra McDonald as Reverend Mother and Laura Benanti as Elsa. These women are INSANE talents. And they got to show what they can do to millions of viewers! Audra's "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" made the whole thing worth it. It's glorious. Carrie's present and emotional reactions as her scene partner during the song made it even more special. And separately, Laura's reaction shots throughout the performance were PRICELESS. When Elsa exits the story, we were all sad to see Laura go.

And then there was Kurt! Little second-son Kurt! I didn't even know that could be a scene-stealing part. Just like when Maria's saying her prayers, Kurt can be a little forgotten. But that little kid had stage (and screen!) presence. He was a delight.

So in conclusion, it's fun to make jokes, but it's also fun to support the art form and recognize the effort put in to make something nice. It doesn't replace the stage musical, or the classic movie we watch over and over again, but it can compliment both and introduce new viewers to the joys of musical theater.

And for the record, here's all the snarky things I had to say about the show last night: