I didn’t think anyone who saw the 2013 American production of The Sound of Music Live thought, what I really need is another TV version of this classic musical. As exciting as it was to watch Broadway standouts Audra McDonald, Laura Benanti, and Christian Borle sing together, leads Carrie Underwood and Stephen Moyer underwhelmed and sounded distinctly out of place alongside their accomplished costars. Never discount the brains at ITV though, who thought this would be a better Christmas gift than say an updated version of Carousel. (Someone get on that.)
But as it happens, The Sound of Music Live 2015 edition offers some pleasant surprises. Whereas criticism was directed at country star Underwood for her folksy, overeager Maria, lead Kara Tointon breathes new life into a role long dominated by Julie Andrews. At the same time, she also grabs the spotlight from stage stars Julian Ovenden and Maria Friedman. It’s impossible to erase Andrews from any performance of this musical, but Tointon does her best to escape her predecessor’s long shadow and make the part uniquely her own.
It’s easy to fall in love with her Maria and to see why the other characters gravitate towards her. Tointon’s character doesn’t have the plucky self-righteousness of Andrews’s interpretation; she wouldn’t smirk in the Captain’s face after he chastises her for parading his children around Salzburg in drapes, but she does radiate a warmth and gentleness that touches others in the way they need most. To the children, she’s the compassionate mother figure, and eventual mother, they’ve longed for. At the abbey where she is a distracted postulant, she lends an air of youth and earthiness. Then to Captain Von Trapp, she is the tender, forgiving partner he needs to help navigate his grief – over the loss of his wife, his reluctance to bond with his children, and the political peril he faces.
Tointon’s costar leans in the other direction though and makes you long for Christopher Plummer’s enigmatic portrayal of the Captain. Ovenden appears in my favorite television show of all time, Foyle’s War, and his voice can trigger heart palpitations (again, updated Carousel), but in this production, he comes off distant, mopey, and if we’re honest, a little emo. It’s hard to imagine this Captain taking charge of his household much less an entire ship. Though his passivity is a much better complement for Tointon’s Maria than a more headstrong one, and their “Something Good” duet made me melt a little, I wish Ovenden would have been more bullish.
Less bewildered are the supporting players. They may not have the force of their American counterparts, but Friedman, Alexander Armstrong, Katherine Kelly, and Mel Giedroyc ably carry out their roles. As with the previous remake, this adaptation is of the stage musical rather than the movie, so don’t be surprised when Max (Armstrong) and the Baroness (Kelly) break into song and bang on about capitulating to Nazis.
If there’s anything significantly inferior to its overseas cousin, it’s the boxy set that pens in the action and emotions. The camera is fairly static because there’s nowhere for it to go, and because the visual movement is so restricted, we get the odd experience of watching a stage musical play out on a medium meant to open up the scenery. You might as well watch this on an actual stage where the story at least has some room to breathe – but then you wouldn’t get Kara Tointon.
Andrew Foyle, aka Captain Von Trapp, aka Julian Ovenden, never stops fighting Nazis:
“Something Good” by Kara Tointon and Julian Ovenden – because somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good to deserve this:
“Edelweiss” by Julian Ovenden:
Dir: Coky Giedroyc, Richard Valentine
Writer: Russel Crouse (book), Howard Lindsay (book)
Cast: Kara Tointon, Julian Ovenden, Alexander Armstrong, Maria Friedman, Katherine Kelly, Mel Giedroyc, Paul Copley, Evelyn Hoskins, Jon Tarcy
Time: 119 min
Country: United Kingdom