The hills were alive with the sound of music Sunday night, as ITV broadcast a completely live version of the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein musical that was watched by around 4 million viewers. It was an ambitious project that involved a full cast moving between three sound stages and filmed using 17 cameras – and did I mention it was all live?
The Sound of Music is one of my favourite of the old-school musicals, and after the disappointment of NBC’s live version in 2013, I was hoping we would make a better job of it here in the UK. After last night’s effort, I think it’s safe to say we most definitely did.
There were good and bad (end of) parts to The Sound of Music LIVE, but undoubtedly the best thing about it was the cast. Kara Tointon unveiled some impressive singing chops in her musical theatre debut as Maria and and was just a delight to see/hear, while as expected, stage veterans Julian Ovenden and Maria Friedman more than delivered in their respective roles as Captain von Trapp and Mother Abbess. I say as expected, but their acclaimed performances apparently came as a surprise to some. Showing a total lack of ignorance (and an apparent inability to do research) to the extensive stage backgrounds of these two fine performers were Radio Times and OK Magazine, with RT’s commenting ‘Who knew the pig man from Downton Abbey can sing?’ and OK Magazine wondering what ‘Elaine from EastEnders’ was doing in SoM Live.
There was also strong casting choices in Katherine Kelly as Elsa Schraeder, Alexander Armstrong as Max Detweiler, Mel Giedroyc as Frau Schmidt, Jon Tarcy as Rolf and Evelyn Hoskins as Liesl, along with the rest of the von Trapp children played by a simply wonderful child cast. There was additional fun to be had to spotting a few musical theatre faces throughout the performance such as Julie Atherton as Sister Margaretta, as well as David Bamber, Keisha Amponsa Banson, Liz Ewing and Sherrie Pennington and more.
The Sound of Music sing-a-longs have been around for years, but the live show last night prompted a Sound of Music tweet-a-long as numerous theatre musical theatre fans, performers and industry professionals offered their thoughts on the production as they watched, including West End Producer and Rebecca Caine who posted some particularly humorous musings – these two always give good tweets! End of Part ended up with its own hashtag while poor little Marta’s fall (the only unfortunate moment in a flawlessly executed live performance) has since gone viral.
The tweet-a-long made for amusing reading, but all joking aside, everyone involved in The Sound of Music LIVE deserves a huge round of applause. It was a daring undertaking by ITV, and the cast should be commended for pulling off a live performance with barely a mistake, and with only 37 days of rehearsal time. One can only imagine the pressure they must have felt knowing they were being watched by millions, especially taking on a musical that that is so well known for the iconic film version and making it their own. They were no doubt well aware that there would be people watching them last night who had only seen the film adaption with Julie Andrews, and would therefore perhaps be resistant to the changes that came with following the original stage version of the musical, including a different song order and the addition of songs that were cut from the film (‘How Can Love Survive’ and ‘No Way To Stop It’ – although there’s a good reason they were cut…).
It’s fantastic then to see that the general consensus is that The Sound of Music LIVE was a huge success. Not everyone was so thrilled with it, but I think that’s probably more to do with their own expectations. Some judged it by the same standard of a live performance on an intimate theatre stage, while others bemoaned the ‘cheap’ and ‘cramped’ feeling of a production that obviously didn’t have the advantage that the on-location film had. This version was neither a stage production nor a film version though, it was a TV adaption that subsequently fell somewhere between the two and really deserves to be viewed in its own merit. In regards to the limits they had with the available space and resources, it was a superb effort and a really enjoyable alternative version of a beloved and timeless musical. There were a few niggles yes, but it was still miles better than NBC’s live version of 2013!
Even if you didn’t rate it, we should all be celebrating what took place last night anyway. A live musical was the most watched programme on ITV Sunday night – just take that in for a second. Through The Sound of Music LIVE, the musical theatre industry was highlighted in an incredibly positive way, and that is something we should not only be giving our support and encouragement to, but we should be calling for much more of it. All too often we bemoan how much musical theatre is underrepresented and underappreciated as an art form, yet when it is given coverage on prime time TV, all some people could do was pick it apart. It wasn’t perfect, no, but that shouldn’t matter. What is important is that 4 million people spent Sunday night watching a live musical on TV.
Experimentation and creativity is a big part of the theatre industry, and while we’re probably never going to top the perfection of the 1965 film, that doesn’t mean we should be afraid to try new things with it. ITV tried something new with The Sound of Music LIVE and for that alone, if nothing else, it has become one of my favourite things.
By Miss Julie Robinson: @missjulie25
Monday 21st December 2015