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How Do You Fill the Shoes of Julie Andrews? Simple: You Can't

By Sarah Carlson | Think Pieces | December 5, 2013 | Comments ()


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While homophobes were busy huffing and puffing at the cast of “Kinky Boots” performing during Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade last week, I was preoccupied with snarling every time I saw a promo for NBC’s The Sound of Music Live! Even my father was confused at my grumblings as we watched the parade. I couldn’t and still can’t help it — my lips involuntarily curl whenever I see spots for what may turn out to be an OK production of the Rogers and Hammerstein musical but what, ever since it was first announced, has only felt like a bastardization of a story I love. I bear no ill will toward pop country singer Carrie Underwood, the star of the production airing live at 8/7PM CST tonight, and I even welcome the appearance of a musical production to primetime TV. Chances are slim she or it will win over me or most of my friends, and there’s a simple explanation for why the deck is stacked against Underwood and company — why people like me feel such a possessiveness for the show. And that reason is Dame Julie Andrews.

When I posted a link to the Trying Too Hard first look trailer for the show (above) on Facebook a few weeks ago, wondering who my generation’s Julie Andrews is (hint: not Underwood), a friend of mine said it best: “Julie Andrews is EVERY GENERATION’S JULIE ANDREWS. I’m not sure what that means, but I’m right. And I want to set this whole thing on fire because it’s just so wrong.” Indeed, Andrews is timeless, as is her role incarnation of Maria von Trapp. She didn’t originate the part; that was Mary Martin, whom I more closely associate with “South Pacific” and “Peter Pan,” in 1959 on Broadway. But the 1965 film adaptation starring Andrews and Christopher Plummer is the version everyone knows, and through it, Andrews claimed the role as her own. An actress can’t not be compared to her, even if it’s unfair. And it is. Andrews is an international treasure. If springtime, or flowers, or sunshine, or, I don’t know, goodness itself had a voice, it would be the voice of Julie Andrews. Hers is a talent that appears effortless. The power-balladness of Underwood’s feels more forced.

MariaRun1.gif MariaRun2.gif

“It’s safe to say that when I was little, my goal was to grow up to become Julie Andrews,” I told my mother a few months ago, apropos of probably me listening to The Sound of Music’s original soundtrack. “You wanted to be Julie Andrews as Maria — they aren’t the same person,” she countered. Heresy! … OK, she’s got a point. But hear me out! Andrews is one of those celebrities whom it is impossible to separate from the roles that made the famous. How could she, the woman, be anything other than practically perfect in every way? She has even been gracious about this production. She could murder someone and I’d think, “Meh, I’m sure she had her reasons. The victim was probably a Nazi — I bet it was Rolf. Make the queen give her another title.”

Maria the character is similarly grand, the embodiment of kindness and an example I looked up to as a child, just as my mother did. Several decades separate the points at which we each first saw the film, but thanks to technology and the family’s trusty videocassette recorder, I watched and rewatched a taped-off-TV recording of the movie so many times — knowing exactly when the commercial breaks would hit, and which commercials they’d be, and not knowing I was missing edited-out-for-time scenes about that whole impending war thing, and not understanding the point behind the song “Something Good” — that my parents at one point hid the VHS tape from me. “The Lonely Goatherd” on repeat didn’t thrill them the way it did me. That connectivity — having a movie at my fingertips — defines so much about us Millennials and generations near us, and why nostalgia runs deep in our veins and on the pages of sites such as Buzzfeed. Andrews have fans of all ages, and many have seen The Sound of Music a time or two. But people like me, we grew up watching it, over and over. Substitute The Sound of Music for whatever one’s particular jam was growing up and you’ll get similarly strong reactions — another Facebook comment on the trailer: “The pictures of Underwood in her draggy makeup mask make me want to punch the nearest person just so I can be sure that SOMEONE PAYS FOR THIS WRONG.” — from them when that piece of beloved media is reimagined in a much less imaginative way.

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As seen in the first look trailer, the actors of the live production have taken great pains to claim it isn’t a remake of the movie. I’m sure that’s true; the musical does, after all, stand on its own as a stage production, and a new version of the show is hardly a crime. What concerns me about the production is whether it will play out like a story or more like a concert. Musicals aren’t easy. They have to walk a careful line to maintain believability, and while it is hard to nail down that certain ingredient that makes a successful show, the best way recipe involves the actors taking the act of breaking out into song and dance numbers seriously. That’s what Andrews did. Andrews as Maria is so genuine, knocking out of the park lines and physical reactions that can so easily be hammed up. Even the way she sits on that ridiculous pinecone at the dinner table is endearing. You’ve got to be better than the wide-eyed and gee-golly-goshness we’ve seen in promos for the live production. Only the backdrop of Austrian mountains is faker.

I’m sure The Sound of Music Live!, also starring Stephen Moyer, Christian Borle and Laura Benanti, will be pleasant to look at and to listen to. Early reports of the music from fellow Pajibians describe it as “too pretty” — too polished. Makes sense that in their zeal for a holiday-time hit, NBC executives have amped up a production that is at its heart is a story about the simplicity and universality of music. How could you overproduce someone like Maria? Oh well. Underwood can have her moment, but I’ll be busy thinking about her irreplaceable predecessor. Perhaps I’ll track down my DVD copy of the 1965 film, which replaced the worn-out VHS tape years ago. That’s the beauty of it all: No matter what, Andrews is and always will be my Maria. I just have to press Play.

Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter. And know this, NBC: If you somehow botch the Ländler number, one of her favorite movie scenes of all time, she will be forced to riot.

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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • robbermaiden

    See, all the promo made me want to do is watch the original. I have nothing against C. Underwood, but… I don't know. I don't mean to be mean, but she bores me. I'm sure she's lovely in real life, but I just don't see much personality there. Julie, though, she has spunk. I love her so much.

  • I've just never felt so angry about a remake.

    This is MY MOVIE. Mine. And my mom's and how I used to watch it when I was 5 and how much we love it and the fact that she has MY NAME and how Captain Von Trapp was my first crush ever and did I ever tell you that my in-laws did an acapella version of "Maria" for my wedding because they KNEW IT WAS MY MOVIE and just aaaaaaaaah!

    I just...listen, it might be exaggeration, but some things are just sacred to you. And this movie and Julie Andrews in it are, to me. The end.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Sounds like you lucked out vis a vis the in-laws. (did they call themselves the Figgy Family Singers at the wedding?)

  • jessb83

    I, too, wanted be Julie-Andrews-as-Maria when I was a wee thing. Which, I suppose, goes hand in hand with the fact that Christopher Plummer was my first crush...

  • e jerry powell

    But Sarah, if one is to be upset at "role poaching," acting history is replete with it, and Julie Andrews is just as guilty as anyone who's "poached" any of "her" roles. Andrews created Mary Poppins but -- granted, due to age, among other factors -- was never even considered for the role on stage. Likewise, her role in Thoroughly Modern Millie went to Sutton Foster. In fact, the only role Julie Andrews created that she played on stage was the one from VIctor/Victoria.

    I feel worse for Larry Hagman's mom.

  • Greg!

    The late FX show Terriers is this generation's Julie Andrews

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I wish there was a question mark in addition to the up and down arrows; I would click it for this comment.

    (You know Andrews has had a long, still continuining, career, right?)

  • Maddy

    I love Julie Andrews, but I'm more upset about the True Blood dude in place of Christopher Plummer.

  • Devin McMusters

    Haters hate. Carrie Underwood lovers love. In a dark corner furiously.

  • stella

    So this is what Transformers and Star Wars fans feel like? I mean, I actually like Carrie Underwood and Stephen Moyer and I still want to kick something whenever a commercial for this comes on.

  • chanohack

    See also: TNMT. SIGH.

  • Andrew

    The only reason that I would watch this is if Stephen Moyer bites someone's fucking head off.

  • I really don't care about the original. I am watching this to see Vampire Bill. I am expecting a train wreck and will be disappointed if it's only boring and cheesy.

  • It might have gone down easier if they'd underplayed the "remake of a favorite movie" thing, and instead pitched it as live theatre on TV. Which, to be fair, has had a fairly dismal ratings record, it usually being on PBS and all, but I would be more likely to tune in because I remember how great "You Can't Take It With You" was with Jason Robards, and how after a few minutes, I learned to ignore the echoing voices off the sound stage and simply got lost in the show. Or maybe that's what they were trying to do, but after years of watching Sound of Music at Christmas time, I can't shake that it's supposed to be the movie version with the ever so hot Christopher Plummer. (Speaking of which, the devastation in her eyes in that gif is one of those things I think it would be hard for Ms. Underwood to pull off.)

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I'm not excited about tonight's doohickey - I might have it on while I work, but the whore makeup comments are a little bizarre when you look at how madeup Julie Andrews is in the header picture. That's not exactly novitiate-true. Just blame the photoshopping/soft lens in the promo pictures.

  • kirivinokur

    She's no Julie Andrews, but Amy Adams could have gotten much closer to that Andrews brightness than Carrie Underwood (I'm expecting).

    FUN FACT: This new Baroness was married to the lead singer of the Spin Doctors. I might root for her anyway.

  • pcloadletter

    Is she Little Baroness Can't Be Wrong?

  • Jiffylush

    I am quite attached to Julie Andrews as Maria and Mary Poppins and basically everything I have seen her in. The fact that they were making this bothered me way more than it should have and of course I will certainly not be watching.

    You mention that thing about Julie Andrews being every generation's Julie Andrews and I couldn't agree more. The sound of music came out in 1965, my 70 year old mother loves it, I love it, and my daughter loves it. This movie in general and her performance specifically don't need an update or an homage or anything else. There will never be a version of this that is better than the original so please don't ever try again.

  • Some Guy

    Julie Andrews' voice is smoother than melted butter on a mirror.

    That's the other reason you can't fill her shoes.

  • Seriously? Now we can't remake musicals? Clearly from the article you realize that dozens (at least) of versions of this story have appeared on the professional stage, but THERE MUST ONLY BE ONE FILMED VERSION~! And why? Because you wanted to be Juile Andrews when you were a little girl. I think the whole Special Snowflake argument about Millennials is pretty stupid and gets way too much attention, but man that kind of reasoning certainly isn't helping the cause.

    This, as with all remakes (and with theatrical productions the term "remake" just becomes patently stupid and meaningless because plays are meant to be re-interpereted over and over again), is simply A VERSION of the story, not THE NEW VERSION THAT REPLACES THAT WHICH YOU HOLD PRECIOUS AND DEAR. This does not erase the video tape from your childhood, or your childhood itself. It's an interpretation of art and should be either celebrated as such, ignored completely or shrugged over while flipping channels. Raging at it's existence seems like a giant waste of time considering how low the stakes are. The fear, I assume, is that some little girl will see this and, perish the thought, prefer it to the version your prefer.

    OK.

    Then what? What horrible thing happens next? Do you have to sacrifice anything at all about how you feel about the original or can you and she just go your separate ways, liking your different things?

    I just don't get this precious over-protectiveness of media we grew up with.

    Except Road House. New Road House should be killed with fire.

  • Is there a new Road House? Considering the only thing watchable about that movie was Sam Elliott kicking ass, I figure I can just find another thing in which Sam Elliott kicks ass, and skip any remake of Road House. Okay, the music was okay, but chances of seeing THAT again are zero so...

  • Kim Voeks

    Those of us who perform in live theater resent the notion that this is a big deal. If you're onstage even three times a week, EVERY performance is live and usually with an audience less than 10 feet from you. There aren't sixty people standing offstage to dress you, groom you and hold a cue card for you. Speaking for my part of the theater community, we're underwhelmed.

  • e jerry powell

    But in a sense, it's a return to the days when networks produced live stage on TV. Not even like PBS, taping and editing a Broadway show for later broadcast. They were employing playwrights and shit. Menotti was writing freaking operas for television, even. People whose names haven't been heard for generations were doing plays on TV soundstages.

    That's got to count for something.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    This is true...and though I found some of the camera set/work impressive last night (I came in during the "No Way to Stop It" number) I don't think there's any benefit to seeing these weird live-but-no-audience performances. It seems more a stunt than a strong aesthetic choice.

  • e jerry powell

    These days, yes. Sixty years ago it was different.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Of course.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Also, the notion of someone taking the role that someone else originated is...nothing to get worked up about. I know this production tonight is not going to compare, but at one point in time people were very, very upset about Audrey Hepburn and Vanessa Redgrave being cast in movie versions of Julie Andrews' star stage roles. (and not without reason, as neither can really sing, but they still performed well)

  • e jerry powell

    Yeah, but Julie Andrews got to be Mary Poppins instead.

    And it's not like Andrews (or Cathy Rigby, or Mitzi Gaynor) did Mary Martin any favors.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I'm gonna be saucy and say: I prefer Cathy Rigby's voice to Mary Martin's. Peter Pan was one of the first Broadway shows I saw - my dad got us tickets for New Year's Day one year when I was a child.

  • Mrs. Julien

    God bless Marni Nixon!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M...

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Indeed. I know someone who took belting lessons from her. Which seems pretty incongruous, but damn if my friend isn't an excellent belter.

  • troublesometots

    Stop trying to improve upon perfection. Next think you know they'll be making a new Gone with the Wind with Selena Gomez. Just stop it.

  • Uriah_Creep

    It is VITAL that a moderator erase this comment before a studio suit or a producer sees it. Chop chop, guys.

  • Bodhi

    The thought of that made me gag

  • The Sound of Music was a Xmas season tradition growing up. Always on TV.

  • birdgal

    Every time I saw a promo during the parade, I would mumble 'abomination' and curl my lip up theatrically, so it sounds like we had the same reaction.

  • I just screamed something like "I HATE YOU AND EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR" at the TV every time.

  • Salasalu

    This made me cry...

  • BWeaves

    I have the Mary Martin Broadway production LP that has the disclaimer on the cover, "This is a brand new stereophonic recording. We guarantee it will not become obsolete in the future." Strangely enough, my CD of the same album, bought years later, has exactly the same cover art MINUS the disclaimer.

    I cannot listen to Julie Andrews sing the songs. I love Julie Andrews, but it's Mary Martin's voice I want singing the songs. Plus, I LOVE the baroness' songs. The movie cut them all.

    The little bit of Edleweiss I just heard Carrie Underwood and Stephen Moyer sing was nails on the blackboard. Couldn't they try to harmonize with each other?

  • ViciousTrollop

    I had one of those double VHS sets of The Sound of Music. I must have watched it a few times a week as a kid.

    I cannot wait to show it to my four year old niece for the first time.

  • PerpetualIntern

    We did too. More often than not growing up, we would stop after the first tape, cause the second one just had Nazis and "Climb Every Mountain," which at the time my sister and I thought was really boring. So we ended on the happy note of the wedding without any of the fleeing and swastikas.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    When I was little, I thought that the movie actually ended with the wedding, because Mom would send us to bed in the commercial break after it. And because yes, to a little girl, wedding = ending. (sad commentary, really)

  • Heee, we used to fast-forward through Every Mountain, too, to get to the fun stuff!

  • Bodhi

    No. Just no. It isn't even the singing that bothers me. Can Carrie Underwood act in a live production? Surely there are better performers out there

  • Siege

    Can Carrie Underwood act?

    Fixed that for you.

  • Mrs. Julien

    I would think that the crucible of American Idol would prepare one for a lot of acting.

  • pcloadletter

    The Internet called her "FarmBot" during her run on American Idol because of her charisma-free performances.

  • Mrs. Julien

    Right then.

  • Bodhi

    Really? I've never seen it

  • Robert

    Growing up, I saw and acted in many stage productions of The Sound of Music that made the original keys the ones that sound best for me. Julie Andrews took every song up to fit her range. She gives a great performance, but it is a performance in the film adaptation of a stage show.

    Now, the thing to remember about this new film version is that they are filming it live tonight. The actors are performing live. This is, for all intents and purposes, a filmed stage adaptation of the show. That's why I'm excited to see what this cast of Tony-award nominee/winners and Carrie Underwood can do with the material.

    Further, I'm used to a Maria who has a little more grit and brass to her voice since Mary Martin's keys--the ones still licensed today--are made for a belter. The bad stage Marias are the ones who try to copy Julie Andrews as a proper soprano. Carrie Underwood is going to belt her way through the show. That makes me excited.

    That and waiting for millions of Americans to learn why Audra McDonald is so amazing. Sure, they've seen her on non-musical TV shows or singing operatic versions of 80s classics on The Colbert Report, but they've never seen her actually tackle a real theatrical score in the context of theater. McDonald is reason enough to watch the telecast. If it's terrible, you can change the channel after Climb Every Mountain. No muss, no fuss.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I loves me some Audra McDonald, and I'm curious about her performance tonight, but no way does Mother Superior offer her anything remotely worthy of her talent. Aside from the fact that she is hella too young for it.

  • e jerry powell

    I loves me some Audra McDonald MORE THAN YOU EVER COULD.
    :-p

    :-D

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Can't we LOVE HER TOGETHER?

    I loves you, Porgy. :)

  • PerpetualIntern

    She will rock "Climb Every Mountain" though.

  • The hills are alive with the sound of mediocrity

  • KZoeT

    The hills are alive with the sound of mucus.

  • L.O.V.E.

    Stephen Moyer is in this so I expect the hills will be alive with the sound of wolves howling.

    That guy is more wooden than a stake to the heart

    \Trueblooded

  • Slim

    In the beloved-at-our-house Scrooged, Bill Murray's Frank Cross stages a gaudy, batshit-crazy LIVE on TV version of A Christmas Carol, complete with nearly-topless Solid Gold Dancers & Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim. So I'm thinking Frank Cross is running NBC. I am waiting for the Sound of Music trailer featuring acid rain that will make me too damn afraid to miss it.

  • Stephanie

    So is Carrie Underwood getting a bath towel or a VCR?

  • pcloadletter

    VCR. No, wait. Towel.

  • Stephanie

    Towel and a face cloth.

  • Legally Insignificant

    Maybe Carrie Underwood will do S.O.B. next.

  • Patti

    I love you Sarah Carlson.

  • Fall07

    Growing up I listened to my RECORD of the sound track from the movie while I was going to sleep.

  • mograph

    I saw it first run, in the theatre. I was a five-year old boy. I remember lots of nuns and brown clothing. And Nazis. In brown clothing. No dancing penguins. I thought it was over at the wedding. "NOOOOO!"

    But now … Julie Andrews. (sigh) So perfect.

  • JenVegas

    I still have that record.

  • Slim

    Me too. We listened to it all the time.

  • TK

    I don't remember Maria applying her makeup with a spackling knife and a caulking gun, but then again it's been a while since I saw it.

  • Salasalu

    But you do remember her big set of fake chicklet teeth, right?

  • Jenn TheYellowDart

    Homer, you've got it set on whore!

  • TK

    Right? Christ woman, you're applying makeup, not frosting a cake.

  • Samantha Klein

    Amen.

  • Mrs. Julien

    Pater Julien quite liked Julie Andrews. He was classy even in his baser impulses.

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