The Sound of Music Live: A masterpiece of Christmas television

The Sound of Music is and always will be my favourite musical. Featuring historical drama, nuns, and songs that can’t help but make you sing along, I spent most of my childhood running around the house and garden (or pretty much any location) singing ‘The Lonely Goatherd’ and ‘Do-Re-Mi’.

So you can imagine I was delighted when ITV announced that the Sunday before Christmas would feature a live performance of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, starring Kara Tointon and Julian Ovenden in the beloved roles of Maria and Captain von Trapp.

This adaptation follows a live broadcast of the musical on NBC in the United States, starring Carrie Underwood. A production which was met with mixed reviews, particularly regarding the actress in the lead role, but high audience figures has sparked a new trend, and perhaps a new way to bring musical theatre to wider audiences.

Tointon and Ovenden were undoubtedly stepping into ginormous shoes but any potential doubts were quickly wiped away. Tointon managed to portray both Maria’s motherly nature and youthful naivety with ease and her singing voice was crystal clear with a beautiful tone that did excellent justice to the work of Julie Andrews without being so similar that it felt like a tribute act. Tointon has proved that she truly is a triple threat.

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Ovenden’s performance as Captain Von Trapp was equally commendable as the patriotic navy man struggled between the easier decision that would ensure the safety of his family, and the right one, refusing to bow down to a tyrannical regime. The enhancement of the historical drama of the musical gave Ovenden much more to do than pine over the governess and provided even more heightened tension than the film.

Supporting cast members Katherine Kelly and Alexander Armstrong were ideally cast as Elsa Schraeder and Max Detweiler and I was hugely grateful that the production stayed faithful to the original, allowing these two to show off their vocal prowess in two numbers, ‘How Can Love Survive’ and ‘No Way to Stop It’.

Indeed, The Sound of Music Live was very much an adaptation of the original production, leading many Twitter users to lament the loss of ‘I Have Confidence’ and the varying order of ‘My Favourite Things’ and ‘The Lonely Goatherd’. Thankfully, ‘Something Good’, written for the film, remained and was one of the standout performances of the night. The camera barely moved from the headsets of Tointon and Ovenden, letting their vocal performances do all the work.

One thing that cannot go unmentioned was the technical production. The transitions and camerawork were seemless, the sets beautifully designed … a million different things could have gone wrong, and although there may have been a few stumbles, the near-perfection that this performance managed to pull off even led some audience members to question the validity of the ‘live’ claim. The scepticism in the integrity of ITV aside, this can surely be taken as a huge compliment for those responsible for pulling this production together.

 

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I have been fortunate enough to not only rewatch the wonderful 1965 film adaptation starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer at every opportunity but I also saw Andrew Lloyd Webber’s revival in 2007 and the outstanding production at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park. The latter was also a faithful production of the original musical and an unbelievably moving and powerful performance that would be difficult to improve in my eyes.

Indeed, nothing can top a truly live performance for the infectious joy of the score and the outstanding talent on stage can never be truly translated through a TV screen. That being said, this broadcast was a masterpiece in Christmas television, providing wonderful performances, a heartwarming story and a sprinkling of beloved songs that brought tears to my eyes.

ITV can give itself a hearty pat on the back for this one, and I sincerely hope live musical broadcasts become an annual Christmas tradition, not only because it was a joy to watch, but because any way that the wonder of musical theatre can be enjoyed by more people must be pursued.

 

All images derived from this trailer. No copyright infringement intended.

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