GUEST EDITORIAL by Jonathan Beck Reed, offering a rational perspective on Carrie Underwood’s performance in the recently televised THE SOUND OF MUSIC on NBC:
Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, I suppose, so, here’s mine. Carrie Underwood is a strikingly beautiful young lady with an AMAZING, clarion voice, far more impressive exhibited through the words and music of Rogers and Hammerstein, in Thursday evenings live broadcast of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, than in all of her previous Country/Pop recordings. And, THEY were impressive!!! She was an ideal cast in the Role of Maria…wholesome, endearing, sensitive, and, in her Scene confronting Von Trapp before being fired, quite moving and impressive!!! She showed the seeds of a young Actress with the potential and passion to grow, and, this from a young lady with almost NO PREVIOUS ACTING EXPERIENCE. She was also generous to her other Actors. Never seeming to play the “Star” on whom this Special was built, but, instead, she seemed a Member of the “Team”. An equal!!! She looked into the eyes of those with whom she shared this unique experience and she LISTENED!!! Intently!!! Sincerely!!! She was ALWAYS earnest and committed, and acquitted herself quite well. She leant her enormous popularity and reputation to this endeavor, and, I greatly respect and admire her for that. Without Miss Underwood, or, a Star of her stature and universal appeal, a project like THE SOUND OF MUSIC could/would never get produced in the first place. Exponentially, MANY actors, artists, technicians, musicians, etc. earned gainful employment through Miss Underwoods agreeing to take on the project. If you love Musical Theater, and, would like to see more of the same in years to come, then, understand that THIS is how it will happen. America will not tune in to see an Actor they’ve never heard of, no matter how BRILLIANT that actor may be, or how much that actor deserves to be seen. But, they WILL tune in to see a “Star” like Miss Underwood, surrounded by a Cast of relative unknowns, who, by association, may become as famous as the Celebrity whom they support. We live in….and have for years…a Celebrity Society. We NEED a “name”!!!! It validates our choice. It offers the “appearance” of being something important if a “Star” is playing the Lead. THE SOUND OF MUSIC captivated millions of Americans this past Thursday, who would never have tuned in if the Maria had been an unknown…no matter how talented that unknown might have been. And, not ONLY was Miss Underwood tasked with playing this very complex Role, with almost no acting experience, in a Musical Theater Classic beloved by generations who grew up with Julie Andrews…it is a very DIFFICULT story to tell. Not the sort of a Musical that you “cut your teeth” on. The emotional complexity of the Characters require strong direction and guidance, which, if criticism were my intention here, THAT would be my focus. I felt Miss Underwood deserved to be better served by the direction. The Story is archaic!!! Few, under forty who viewed, have any concept of the Second World War, or the atrocities of the Third Reich or Hitler Youth, or, the history of how a great Nation was overtaken by a mad man, and, what that rise did to other bordering, neutral Nations. Just as CABARET really has very little to do with relationship between Cliff and Sally, THE SOUND OF MUSIC is less about Von Trapp, Maria and the cute kids, and MORE about the circumstances of the “World” which they inhabited. It’s heady stuff, and, to fully appreciate, and PERFORM, requires on the part of the AUDIENCE and actors alike, an in depth understanding of the history it depicts. I felt that “sense” of something ugly looming large was absent in this production. But, that was not the fault of Miss Underwood. I bring all this up because, I have seen numerous unkind, catty, bitchy, superior posts criticizing….no….verbally evescerating Miss Underwood, as if it were some sort of a “one upmanship” sport. As if she is somehow worthy of a kind of cyber bullying because she didn’t live up to the “bully’s” expectation. Miss Underwood has been attacked with impunity, and, in some cases, clear PRIDE by those having been so purposefully unkind and mean spirited. The list of weak attempts to be oh-so-preciously “witty” at Miss Underwood’s expense, have been long, and, undeserved…no matter what your opinion of her performance might be. That sort of pettiness has always been something of a mystery to me. The GLEE with which some celebrate others perceived shortcomings is revelatory and sad. It most often tends to say more about the one who’s attacking than the one they’ve attacked. As if all those tossing insults could have done a better job. I applaud Carrie Underwood. She’s a beautiful, gifted girl who did her best. That’s all I really meant to say.
Jonathan Beck Reed is an Oklahoma City native, and an award winning, internationally recognized Actor, Director, Designer and Instructor with over 35 years of experience working in professional theater, film and television. He began his Theatrical Career at the age of eight, studying at the prestigious Mummers Theater, and proudly attended Oklahoma City University from 1979-83 before embarking on a Professional Career encompassing nearly every area of the Performing Arts. Throughout his career, he has been blessed to have learned from the best, and has “trod the boards” with the likes of Bob Hope, Tony Bennett, Gwen Verdon, Ann Reinking, Megan Mullaley, Arte Johnson, Louis Nye, Kaye Ballard, Ron Raines, Lara Teeter, James Naughten, Annie Golden, Laura Kenyon, Pam Klinger, Vince Gill, and Amy Grant, among others.
Reed is a Co-Founder of Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre and is its distinguished Artist-in Residence. CityRep has been cited by Actors Equity Association as one of the Finest Member Theaters in the Country and was recently accepted as a Member of Theater Communications Group (one of only 500 in the US). Mr. Reed most recently directed GODSPELL at City Rep and performed in GREATER TUNA with City Rep co-founder and Artistic Director Donald Jordan. He is pictured here as Arles with Donald Jordan as Bertha in their three year sell-out run of A TUNA CHRISTMAS 2008-2010.
Photo by Mutz Photography
PHOTO OF CARRIE UNDERWOOD BY WILL HART
NY TIMES Review of the television remake: