Sound of Music Live 2015

Lots of pacing problems and generally lackluster performances once again make me question the value of live televised theatre. The kid actors did ok.

Last night our local PBS station had a rerun of the 2015 live televised production of “The Sound of Music”. The one good thing that came out of it was I reread the real history of the von Trapp Family Singers, which is pretty fascinating. But was the production was very underwhelming to me. Not a disaster, but not really enjoyable.

The basic production value was all right. It was recorded on studio sound stages with only 4 sets, but that is generally enough. Some of the spaces felt really cramped though. Costumes were fine.

Sound and cinematography suffered. I usually don’t like televised theater because of all the bits around the edges that get lost, and the rapid cuts take me out of the theatrical feeling. This was staged to be filmed, without an audience, so that wasn’t as much of an issue, but the cramped spaces and limited cameras meant that very frequently the performers were singing full-backs to the camera. At one point where Marie is directing the children in singing she is completely out of frame, losing critical context for the scene. Sound levels were rough, and sometimes mic cues were missed, so it was often hard to hear the vocals.

Speaking of vocals, none of the performances stood out from a singing perspective, but Maria’s habit of clenching her jaw, both while singing and speaking, drove me to distraction. I’m not sure if some of her interpretation was meant to be copying Julie Andrews or if it was just an artifact of the British accents, but that brings up the point that only one person in the entire show had a German accent. For a modern production I would have preferred no accents (performed in England, so British to us), or actual Austrian and German accents on the appropriate characters.

But the clincher was the rushed pacing. It has been a long time since I’ve seen a full stage production, but I feel like things were cut, but at the very least the show went from song to song so fast there was no breathing room for character development. We are left to assume that everyone started to like each other because they said so. The children barely intereact with Maria when she’s not singing with them. She and the Captain share one dance and poof! Love! I think the rushing to fit the show in the televised time slot also led to a lack of connection with the text. I just didn’t beleive anything anyone was saying meant anything to them. And Captain von Trapp couldn’t stand up straight. Very strange.

I don’t know if anyone will ever figure out this kind of live theatre, I’m not sure they should keep trying.