On the Sound of Music Live!, Sort Of

I must confess that I only caught the last 15 minutes of last Thursday’s live broadcast. But let me tell you that I enjoyed reading various comments on Facebook about the production. Some people tore Carrie Underwood and the overall production apart, but others adamantly defended her and presented reasons why you shouldn’t expect a reproduction of the movie, but a unique experience that stands on its own, much like if you had gone to a playhouse on Broadway.

I mean, when I first heard that Carrie Underwood would be playing Maria, I thought, well, she doesn’t have any acting/theater experience, so it should be interesting, but I bet she’ll sound great. I mean, I really like Carrie Underwood. I love her discipline both with her voice training and exercise routine; I love that she went to college; I love how she can sing “How Great Thou Art” and make me cry. And I love that she ventured into Broadway, because why not see if you can transfer sheer stage presence from a live music concert to something more tempered like a live Broadway musical? For three hours?

Look at the casting. Cast someone purely Broadway as Maria, and you’ll attract the Broadway buffs, but the Broadway buffs would have gone to Broadway and paid for a show anyway. But with Carrie on LIVE television, you also attract the country buffs (and also a fair number of haters). And with Steven Moyer, you attract the vampire buffs. And with Audra McDonald, if there’s anything that’s right with the world, you attract everyone.

I’m so sad I missed her.

My first encounter with Audra was when I first watched the movie Wit. This was a movie adapted from a stage production, but mostly, it’s a movie staged as a play with a camera in front of it. Audra plays a compassionate nurse as a foil to both Emma Thompson’s and Christopher Lloyd’s stern academic dispositions. The first thing I thought when I saw her was, “She’s so perfect.” Then I looked her up on the mighty internet and found out about her theater experience and parts she’s played on television.

Then a few years ago, I found out she was coming to the Hale Center Theater in Orem to perform 110 in the Shade and that she’d give a master class to theater students at BYU. Why would she come to Utah? I mean, Utah’s increasingly becoming a cultural arts landscape, but then I found out she’d be marrying this guy:

I’ve actually never seen this movie. I guess I’m remiss in my research.

Audra McDonald’s practically almost a non-practicing Mormon. What a thrill!

Then one day in October around the government shutdown I was watching the Colbert Report, and Stephen Colbert announced that he’d be officiating a wedding originally planned to take place in Monticello, but the national landmark was closed. So he invited the couple and the wedding party to his studio, and since he’s an ordained minister, he united the eager couple on television. A couple of guests performed, including Audra McDonald. She appears in this video around 4:35:

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/429522/october-03-2013/the-2013-government-shutdown-wedding-of-the-century-pt–2?xrs=share_copy

Reilly watched this with me, and while he wasn’t as familiar with Audra as I was (as if we’re best friends or something), when he heard her sing “White Wedding,” he had an immense newfound respect for her.  Who wouldn’t?

Wit was also where my love for Emma Thompson increased. And this movie is where I discovered composer Arvo Pärt. If you don’t know either of these artists, you should. And if you don’t know about the movie, please fix that.

So you can imagine how different my 15-minute experience with the Sound of Music Live! was than watching the original movie with Julie Andrews. The acting wasn’t great, but I still liked the songs. The associations with Carrie and Audra and Wit and Arvo Pärt and all the accompanying awesome feelings made me experience this live television event differently than if I had expected a mere live remake of everyone’s movie normalform.

Arvo Pärt, Spiegel im Spiegel

“I could compare my music to white light which contains all colours. Only a prism can divide the colours and make them appear; this prism could be the spirit of the listener.”

-Arvo Pärt

The end credits of the movie Wit roll as this piece is playing. If you’ve seen the movie, then you’d know I’m already crying at the end as they show the split screen with Emma Thompson’s character, Professor Vivian Bearing, healthy, and her character deceased. I’m sobbing. And it all starts, really, 10 or 15 minutes before the end, when Ms. Bearing is so ill she can no longer speak. She lies in the hospital bed, letting the other characters exposit what’s going on. Her own college professor from many years ago, Professor Forster, comes to visit her, enters the scene; she’s in town to see a grandson and went to the university to ask for Vivian, and the faculty tells Ms. Forster she’s in the hospital.

Ms. Forster slides open the door. Vivian sees her and begins to cry. Her only friend, you see. Ms. Forster removes her shoes and lies next to Vivian and reads her Runaway Bunny, a children’s story, something that isn’t John Donne. Vivian cries herself to sleep. Ms. Forster kisses her tenderly on the head, fares her well, and leaves. This scene is so tender, so compassionate, so poignant, one can’t help but cry.

And 10 or 15 minutes later, the movie’s over.

Except it isn’t. See, it’s this piece that keeps me from turning off the DVD player. (Yes, I own this movie.) It doesn’t contain trills or glisses or fugal elements. Three-note repeating sequences on the piano with that gentle, bassy boom every so often at the left of the keyboard, and the cello sweeps along the progression with long, bowing tones. Two – TWO! – instruments. It seems like it could go forever – I want it to – but here, it lasts eight and a half minutes.

It’s powerful, it’s so simple it’s brilliant and it’s brilliant because the catharsis just happens, and like Mr. Pärt says, I can see all these colo(u)rs, and my life seems to gain all this depth and passion and … clarity. Colors. Definition. Meaning. If I had stopped that movie before the credits rolled seven years ago, I would have been fine, but since I didn’t, I can’t imagine its absence. It’s white light I can see.

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