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Monday, November 5, 2018

THE SOUND OF MUSIC LIVE -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle

If you find yourself watching Shout! Factory's new Blu-ray release of THE SOUND OF MUSIC LIVE, chances are you either (1) love the Julie Andrews movie and are curious to compare them, or (2) simply like musical theater, or (3) are fascinated by elaborate live television productions.

And if, as in my case, all three apply, you're liable to have as great a time watching this incredible ensemble performance as I did.

Once it got underway, this 2015 version of the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein musical (book by Russel Crouse and Howard Lindsay) quickly began to prove that it could stand beside the beloved film version as its own entity, with its own style and unique appeal.

The first thing I noticed is how great it looks.  Shot on three soundstages, this live show boasts some exquisite sets for the abbey in which young Maria is studying to become a nun, the mansion of the lonely widower Captain Georg von Trapp and his children, for whom Maria is sent to serve as temporary governess, and, finally, the concert hall where the Von Trapp Family will eventually perform for their fellow Austrians on the eve of World War Two.

The second thing I noticed is that this cast is marvelous, especially a radiant Kara Tointon (MR. SELFRIDGE, EASTENDERS) as free-spirited Maria and Maria Friedman as Mother Abess, Maria's wise and encouraging mentor who realizes that the young woman's future path may lie outside the abbey. Julian Ovenden as the Captain takes a bit longer to warm up to, but then so does his stern, joyless character (into whom Maria breathes new life and love).

The juvenile castmembers are marvelous as well, as are the exhilarating song and dance performances which make all the familiar tunes sound brand new and freshly exciting.  The only ones that didn't move me were sung by Katherine Kelly as Baroness Elsa Shraeder, Georg's (poorly-chosen) intended bride whom we know is totally wrong for him, and Alexander Armstrong as Georg's amusingly craven friend Max.  But this is appropriate since their songs are meant to express more selfish, worldly interests.

We know that Maria will gradually melt Georg's cold heart and use the healing power of song to bring him closer to his children again, and that they'll fall in love.  But seeing it presented in such a delightfully imaginative new interpretation, with such heart and emotion, had me tearing up with the first chords of each familiar song.

For indeed this is a deeply emotional tale (based on a true story) of love--not just romantic love, but love of family, country, and God--with songs that go straight to the heart to evoke a wealth of feeling.  Even the suspenseful finale in which the Von Trapp family attempt to escape from an Austria trembling under the oppressive weight of encroaching Nazism (as frighteningly depicted here) is ingeniously interwoven with song.

The production itself is a technical marvel that I found endlessly fascinating.  How they pulled off something so incredibly elaborate for live television with nary a hitch is an utter marvel.  Even when one of the children stumbles over a suitcase, Tointon makes it a part of the scene.

Director Coky Giedroyc, using 17 cameras, gives it all just the perfect balance between stagey theatricality and cinematic fluidity and style.  The presentation never feels static or stagebound, while Giedroyc infuses it all with a pleasing simplicity and a sharp focus on both character and performance.

The Blu-ray from Shout! Factory looks great and features a behind-the-scenes featurette and a commentary track by Kara Tointon and Julian Ovenden.

As someone who fell in love with the original film version way back in the 70s, I can say without reservation that THE SOUND OF MUSIC LIVE is a wonderful new incarnation of the story which I found profoundly moving.  Both as entertainment and as a technical achievement, it's a dazzling, exciting experience.


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