The Butler Did It. But How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?
In NBC's Live production of Rogers and Hammersteins "Sound of Music," last night, Buffalo native Sean Cullen, (pictured L in a photo courtesy of Lincoln Center) a 1983 St. Bonaventure grad who has been seen on Broadway and in "Days of our Lives" portrayed Franz, the butler. And in a small role, he did better than others-- most notably, country singer Carrie Underwood, who struggled according to most reviews.
|Here's an excerpt of Cullen's IMDb profile
"Sean Cullen is a native of Buffalo, New York, and a graduate of Bishop Timon-St. Jude High School, St. Bonaventure University and the Yale School of Drama. As an actor, he has appeared in four broadway productions ("Golden Boy" and Tony-winner "South Pacific" most recently, for director Bart Sher and Lincoln Center Theater); and at nearly twenty. "
Underwood played the role of Maria in the remake of the classic musical and spent the past several weeks in New York, working on her lines and perfecting her singing for the live performance. But some might find fault with Underwood's acting ability.
AP's Critic Mark Kennedy writes: The only real problem was the real reason most people tuned in: Carrie Underwood, an "American Idol" winner and country music star, sang well as Maria but her acting inexperience was laid bare. She had zero chemistry with her love interest and lacked any intensity or shading. Deer in headlights have emoted more. How do you solve a problem like Maria, indeed.
Underwood was done no favors by being surrounded by some Broadway veterans - Christian Borle, Laura Benanti and Audra McDonald, especially - who thrive under the lights and pressure. This is what these Tony Award winners do for a living and it showed. It was like watching a Nissan Sentra try to drag race with a pack of Bugatti Veyrons.
Full credit goes to Underwood for trying, though. She was not just dancing and singing live in front of millions in a medium she is a novice at, but she also was stepping into the role made famous by Julie Andrews in the 1965 film. As if that wasn't enough, it was also only a few hours after the death of Nelson Mandela. Theater lovers mocked her on Twitter but the only reason we got to see "The Sound of Music" on TV was Underwood. No one is about to build a live network musical around a Broadway star, alas.
Viewers who tuned in hoping to catch the film version may have been surprised at what was broadcast from a Long Island soundstage.
This show was based on the stage original, penned as a vehicle for Mary Martin, not the Andrews film. It includes several songs that were left out of the movie - "No Way to Stop It" and "How Can Love Survive" - and is darker, with more Nazis.
The directors - Tony-nominated director and choreographer Rob Marshall and Emmy-nominated "Saturday Night Live" and "30 Rock" director-producer Beth McCarthy-Miller - used all six sets efficiently and the dozen cameras worked hard, catching close-ups as well as sweeping shots. But it was often strangely lifeless, with the crack and zing of being live rarely transmitting through the screen.
It was supposed to be spectacular, appointment TV in this era of DVRs and binge watching. It's unclear if this was the breakthrough that will start a whole new musical revolution. What it really turned out to be was an advertisement for Broadway (smart shows currently running like "Wicked" and "Rogers + Hammerstein's Cinderella" bought commercials) and the skills that veterans of the stage can bring.
Borle was arch and wonderfully slimy as Max, Benanti was glamorously witty as Elsa, and McDonald was a majestic Mother Abbess. Michael Campayno as Rolf was a natural though he's still in drama school and Ariane Rinehart was a winning Liesl. Stephen Moyer, who is primarily known for his work on HBO's "True Blood," was a particularly stern Captain and more than a few people watching would probably have liked him to ditch the nun drop-out and stay with Benanti.