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Friday, December 06, 2013

The Sound of Ignorance

Last night, NBC took a big ratings and financial risk by mounting the first complete live production of a Broadway musical on prime time television in over fifty years. And while the production of Rogers and Hammerstein's classic The Sound of Music  was not without its flaws, its merits far outweighed its shortcomings, and those of us who love the theater can hope that NBC's experiment is a harbinger of things to come.

What I want to address here is the flurry of comments with which teachers, actors and musicians deluged the social media sites. Although there was a good deal of positive commentary, I feel that it is my obligation as a professional musician, teacher and critic to address some of the outright stupidity that I read.

I particularly want to speak to teachers. From what I was reading last night, it would seem that Walmart, who was the major sponsor of the event, is also issuing music education degrees, such was the level of incompetence that I read from people who are supposed to be in the business of educating our future actors and singers.

For example, one person wrote: : "I don't see why they would want to remake a classic in the first place." The implication here is that NBC was trying to do a remake of the now classic Robert Wise film of  The Sound of Music starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. This was obviously not the case. Anyone who knows both versions of the show knows the changes that were made to the stage production for the film. So to the person who inquires as to why The Lonely Goatherd was being sung in place of My Favorite Things,  I would advise you to do your homework and learn both productions.

NBC did not attempt to re-make Julie Andrews. Rather it mounted a production of the stage musical. Revivals happen every evening on Broadway, and to make a comment like "I don't see why they would remake a classic" is well, just stupid. By that logic, we would not have Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, Neil Simon, or for that matter Andrew Lloyd Webber, because we would be proscribed from mounting any production that was not the original.  Such a practice would also kill all regional, community and touring theater because if we couldn't do a new production, we'd all have to flock to the theater of origin to see a show.

Further, I was dismayed at the snarky and even cruel comments that people were making about the NBC production. This was particularly egregious from educators. To simply throw out a tirade of negative comments without backing them with any constructive criticism is not only immature,  it's useless to any reader, especially a student. If we want to train future professionals to be discerning, then we need to define for them just exactly what good is. We do not need to reel off a string of snide one liners.

Ultimately, the NBC production had its weaknesses, this is true. In particular, Carrie Underwood's inexperience as an actress and her lack of classical vocal training showed in last night's performance. And, if I were the casting director, I would have cast a somewhat older actor in the role of Max Dettweiler.

Yet, the good that NBC did by producing a live musical in a prime slot far outweighed the bad. The sets were gorgeous, the camera work outstanding and on the whole, the cast acted and sang with aplomb. Even more importantly, we got a lesson in what a live performance can be like. It has risks, and there is the possibility of an imperfection or two (like when the cameraman slipped in the wedding scene giving us four seconds of shaky picture.)

What our teachers should be touting is that a major network gave a number of younger and even first time actors a shot at a major production. After all, don't we want there to be work available for our now students when they become future professionals? The answer is clearly yes.

And so I say to our nay saying educators, first, learn your craft. Before you spout off idiotic comments about song placement, please at least have gone to the trouble to have seen or read the original play. Second, set an example to your students by backing up your critiques with something more than clever sarcasm. After all, we critique students so that they can learn and grow. And last, think a little bit about what a contribution NBC made to the future of our art and show a little gratitude. Remember that theatre with a future is your job security. Unless you just really want to see the arts in schools reduced to nothing and thus forcing you into the minimum wage workplace.

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