“The Sound Of Music” is a Christmas tradition. Every Christmas Day, the film version is televised, and I think nowadays NBC is also rerunning the live version starring Carrie Underwood. ITV in England has just shown a new live version, starring Kara Tointon, and it is turning out to be one of my favourite things this year. I cannot help but compare it to the NBC live telecast from a few years ago, and I can confidently say that this ITV version is better by leaps and bounds.
Firstly, Tointon is a fantastic Maria. She is age appropriate, and although not as technically proficient musically, she sings the score competently, in an admittedly lower key. You see, a great acting Maria makes a big difference. Plus, Julian Ovenden is a fantastic Captain Von Trapp, though for sure he is a little too pretty-boy ish (he looks like a combination of Hugh Grant and John Barrowman) to be a Navy officer. But, Tointon and Ovenden have a great easy chemistry, and you swoon with them as they begin to fall in love.
The other great thing that makes this version great is its book. It is a combination of Crouse’s stage book and Ernest Lehman’s screenplay. While score wise this is more faithful to the original stage version, they have inserted “Something Good” here instead of “An Ordinary Couple,” which I think is a good choice. (Though I still am baffled by the openign lyrics of ‘Something Good,’ which says Maria had a troubled childhood – huh??) There is not as much saccharine in this version, and the Nazis have never been more menacing. For example, they have added a new troubling scene, wherein a Nazi Officer, after finding out Capt Von Trapp has to delay his Third Reich post because of a music festival, commands the family to sing the songs they are going to sing at the festival, just to prove that they are singing.
It is not perfect, though: the sets, though stately, is a little drab, and teh costumes are horrendous. Maria’s wedding dress looked like it just got fished out of the laundry basket and could use some steaming. And I really wasn’t wowed by the staging of “Sixteen Going On Seventeen,” my favorite song from the show, wherein they substituted the gazebo with a bench. (This ain’t ‘Carousel,’ folks!)
Make no mistake, though, that this is a fantastic must-see version of the show, and should be considered a modern classic, fit enough to be shown every Christmas day from here on.