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'Sound of Music' returns to its live roots

12:38 PM, Dec 5, 2013   |    comments
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(Photo: Todd Plitt, USA TODAY)

BETHPAGE, N.Y. - It's the first day of camera blocking for a rehearsal of NBC's live broadcast of the original stage version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music (Thursday, 8 p.m. live ET/tape-delayed PT). Inside a Long Island studio, a pop star, a posse of kids and an actor best known for playing a vampire are rehearsing scenes on a facsimile of a grand estate in Salzburg, Austria.

As the youngsters run through So Long, Farewell, a tune they'll perform as the children of Captain von Trapp, True Blood star Stephen Moyer, cast as their widower dad, stands on an adjacent set, running through lines with Carrie Underwood, who is playing Maria, the bright-eyed novitiate who becomes the children's governess and, eventually, the Captain's wife.


Around the corner, Broadway darling Audra McDonald, winner of five Tony Awards, adjusts the habit she'll wear as the Mother Abbess, Maria's loyal guardian. Fellow Tony winners Laura Benanti and Christian Borle - the Captain's glamorous companion, Elsa, and their buddy Max, respectively - are just outside the studio, in their trailers.

"We're all starting to panic just the teensiest bit," Benanti says, while being fitted into one of Elsa's elegant gowns.

This Sound of Music will mark the first time that a renowned Broadway musical has been performed live on network television since a 1955 production of Peter Pan starring Mary Martin, who played Broadway's original Maria. (Another Rodgers and Hammerstein show, Cinderella, was written for the small screen, where it premiered live in 1957 - starring a young Julie Andrews, who would later play Maria in the screen adaptation of Sound of Music.)

"It's a real experiment," says co-executive producer Craig Zadan, who with creative partner Neil Meron has overseen a wide range of theatrical TV programming, from the Oscars to NBC's late Smash to productions of the musicals Gypsy, Annie and Cinderella.

In choosing their Sound of Music cast, the duo were wary of "using movie people who are used to doing take after take," Zadan says. "Broadway people don't need to be protected." Moyer has a musical theater background as well, he notes, and Underwood "has done a million live concerts."

Still, Zadan says, there is a "fear factor. There won't be auto-tuning here; if someone hits a bad note, you're going to hear it. Someone could trip or forget lyrics. We're throwing them in front of a national audience, and whatever happens happens."

Moyer admits "there's no way not to feel the pressure. Yesterday we performed the first act for the camera crew; suddenly we have 80 people watching, and there were a few butterflies."

The actor adds: "We've still got two weeks to go, and we're in good shape - we all know what we're doing. That doesn't mean that things won't go wrong, because they will. But if I make a mistake, so be it. That's the challenge and the thrill of live theater."

(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)

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