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Soundcheck Smackdown: Is The Sound of Music Stale?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Julie Andrews The Sound of Music Soundcheck Smackdown Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music

On December 5, NBC will air a live version of the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, The Sound of Music. The live show will star Carrie Underwood and True Blood's Stephen Moyer, and will undoubtedly have fans ready to compare every shot to the iconic 1965 film. In anticipation of the latest iteration of the musical, we brought NPR's Linda Holmes and musician Peter Kiesewalter to Soundcheck to make their case: is The Sound of Music a living monument to American theater, or has it gotten stale since its stage premiere in 1959?

 

Peter Kiesewalter is a multi-instrumentalist, arranger, and Sound of Music enthusiast. Linda Holmes hosts the Pop Culture Happy Hour at NPR and writes for the blog Monkey See, where she recently published "A Complete Curmudgeon's Guide to 'The Sound of Music.'"

Holmes admits that she loves Rodgers & Hammerstein, but explains that if you're going to include "a song where ultimately you're telling me 17 of your favorite things, none of them should be doorbells," she explains. "It's uninspiring to me." She also finds Liesel's romantic subplot with Rolf, the mailman, mildly depressing and complains the young man is "not a very romantic figure ... even before he becomes a Nazi."

Kiesewalter finds Rolf a tragic character, and loves the music unequivocally. He thinks the musical's premiere in 1959 totally changed the trajectory of Western music, and that Rodgers & Hammerstein accomplished a lot with their score. "They've achieved what every artist and every musician strives for in their life," he says, "which is to strip their entire career of all the technique, artifice, pretense orchestration, and return to that innocence ... They've made something sound so deceptively simple that it will annoy people -- some people -- but at the same time it'll sound like an old childhood song."

What do you think about The Sound of Music? Is it one of your "Favorite Things"? Or would you rather bid it "So Long, Farewell"? Tell us in the comments below. 

Guests:

Linda Holmes and Peter Kiesewalter

Comments [7]

Bob from Durham, NC

Why is it that we have to dissect something every time? TSOM is beautifully written and easy to listen to. It is not some course taken at a university--its a musical written by two geniuses! And yes, it is a shame that one partner had to die so early. I could just imagine what they would have done next to top themselves.

Nov. 27 2013 04:27 PM
John Verderber from New York

I've always found THE SOUND OF MUSIC to be a turgid and uninspired show that sounds like a second-rate imitation of R&H that happens to be by R&H. The lyrics are so florid and over-the-top and the music is plodding, something Rodgers had been having trouble with since ME & JULIET and PIPE DREAM. If one wants real tears, real simplicity, real honesty and REAL R&H, look no further and CAROUSEL, SOUTH PACIFIC and THE KING AND I. Also, the book by Lindsey and Crouse is a sad excuse for an operetta retread, with no character development. The male lead of Captain von Trapp has NOTHING to do but grimace, change heart, and sing a little bit. That's not the King of Siam or Billy Bigelow, two marvelous male R&H leads.

Mr. Kisewalter is obviously a delusional hoarder who really likes to use hyperbole. It's a shame that Rodgers and Hammerstein's collaboration was ended in 1960 after Mr. Hammerstein's death at 65. Two new and exciting works of musical theater that had opened at that time, WEST SIDE STORY and GYPSY, would have probably stimulated Hammerstein to explore more-- just as he did with SHOW BOAT, OKLAHOMA!, CAROUSEL and ALLEGRO.

The problem is, of course, that for all of his musical inventiveness, Richard Rodgers wasn't a particularly inventive man of the theater, like Hammerstein. So perhaps things ended where and how they did. It's sad, but at least we have CAROUSEL.

Nov. 27 2013 01:26 PM
Steve from NY

Linda's ham-handed harangue was no match for Peter's eloquent explanation of nuance.

But one cannot be expected to understand subtle metaphors, ironic attraction, quiet hypocrisy or the befuddlement of love if one's hands are actually hams.

PS I read Linda's blog post on the subject, seemed phoned-in.

Nov. 26 2013 10:31 PM
Steve from NY

Linda's ham-handed harangue was no match for Peter's eloquent explanation of nuance.

But one cannot be expected to understand subtle metaphors, ironic attraction, quiet hypocrisy or the befuddlement of love if one's hands are actually hams.

PS I read Linda's blog post on the subject, seemed phoned-in.

Nov. 26 2013 10:18 PM
Rita

NO CONTEST!!!! Peter's delusional. Linda wins. Rodgers AND Hammerstein, they should rest in peace, should both be ashamed of themselves! And now you're besmirching Soundcheck's - and WNYC's - entire space. (In fact, just the airing of the promo earlier this evening really did more than enough damage . . .). Better call in someone to sage the joint, pronto. That whole musical gives me a weakness! Ditto for any other performers' treatments. Just awful, the entire affair.

Nov. 26 2013 09:37 PM
Negin Moss from New York

Linda,

I guess door bells carry on surprises, of good news and/or bad news.
The character of the mailman was delivered really well. A confused and insecure young man. We should also critic the film in the context of its time and its story. The film is inspired by a true story. It is interesting to hear both sides.

Thanks,
Negin

Nov. 26 2013 09:37 PM
Erianthe

Door bells would be like our modern day text message. Someone you know is contacting you but they are actually
at the door!

Nov. 26 2013 09:29 PM

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