IT’S NOT “LIVE” WITHOUT A LIVE AUDIENCE
by Cara Winter
First, a quick positive note to Ms. Underwood:
Bravo! Virtually no one on Earth has ever done what you have done. No, wait. Let’s do the math. Oh, that’s right: EXACTLY no one, but you! Without any prior experience in the theater, you took on the starring role in a 3-hour-long musical, to be broadcast live to millions of viewers, in a show so beloved it ranks right up there with FROSTY THE SNOWMAN in terms of nostalgic net worth. And you did a very fine job; your voice was amazing, you were sweet with the kids, and I believe you felt deeply your confession to the Mother Superior… and you looked like a million (nun-ly) bucks.
And since the live broadcast, you (undoubtedly) have been subjected to hearing an avalanche of negative feedback… ire posted far and wide by everyone with a halfway coherent opinion, a community theater credit, and an internet connection. And unless Twitter is broken, so far I haven’t heard that you’ve kicked anyone in the face, smashed your car, killed your neighbor’s dog, or checked into rehab.
So, Ms. Underwood (and I really mean this)… BRAVO. You are brave and victorious, and should be commended. And if this (unsolicited positive feedback from yet another “voice” on the internet) doesn’t make you feel any better, there’s more.
You (and your cast-mates) are all the more brave because you took that stage… without a live audience.
So, NBC. Hi, guys. How are ya? Look, I love me the idea of some live musicals on TV. Nicely done, all the way around: casting, production values, all those camera angles? Awesome. So, YES, PLEASE, MORE. OF. THIS.
Look. A musical needs a live audience. PERIOD. It’s pretty basic: when something is funny, the audience laughs; when something is sad, they cry. And as a MIRACULOUS result of these reactions, the audience at home is given permission to laugh, cry, and even clap, too.
Yes, this give and take between live audience and actors ALTERS the performances, but … FOR THE BETTER. A live audience’s enthusiasm and approval gives the actors hope and joy, which they then give back to the audience (both live and at home). This give and take is 3,000 years old, unlike the television set (which is much younger).
The ancient Greeks thought this was actually a communication between the people and their Gods; the actors weren’t the point, they were the portal! It is the basis of everything from the modern rock concert, to the Super Bowl. (Sorry, ’scuse me, but can you imagine the Super Bowl without a stadium full of live human beings? I think not.) Well, a musical is like the Super Bowl. A live audience is so essential, so necessary, it’s shocking no one thought it important enough to insist upon its inclusion in the broadcast.
And, hey, maybe it came up in the planning and was nixed due to logistical problems. But, I’m sorry, it couldn’t have been any more of a nightmare than shooting James Cameron’s THE ABYSS, and that still happened! I promise, I PROMISE, most (if not all) of the so-called “problems” with the broadcast (pacing, jokes falling flat, Rolf’s shorts) would have been solved, missed altogether, or simply forgiven… if a room full of people had burst into thunderous applause upon the culmination of each song.
Now, these days, when the average person invests time, money & energy to actually get up and go to the theater and they do not receive a spine-tingling, goose-bump-inducing communication from the great beyond? Then it better damn well be a fiasco; actors tripping over each other, sets falling down, and dancers pirouetting into the orchestra pit. Otherwise, what is the point?
And therein lies the sad, sad reason for all the hate-watching: within the first 2 minutes of the broadcast, the home audience knew they weren’t going to get something transcendent out of it… so the best they could hope for was a fiasco.
And it wasn’t! It wasn’t transcendent and it wasn’t a fiasco. It was a studied, flawlessly sung, slightly slow… Dress Rehearsal.
So. My Christmas wish for Ms. Underwood is that someday, you will have a real theatrical debut, in front of a real, live audience… just to feel the difference in your bones and be filled with how very much a group of human beings can be WITH YOU. The character of Maria was set to music by Rogers & Hammerstein, and embodied by you… but it is the audience who provides the final breath of life.
My wish for NBC? Oh, my god, you guys… that you read this post! That you build a time machine, and go back to a year ago and agree to bus in a few hundred ringers! Because with a live audience, the whole thing could have gone “to 11”.
So. GREAT IDEA, beautifully executed, kudos on the direction, musical direction, and casting. Just… next time… find a way to go live in front of some theater-goers, please?! Maybe Chuck Lorre would like to produce the next one? Pretty please? Danke.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A couple of days ago, NBC announced that its live – um, or not really – THE SOUND OF MUSIC was so successful that “We’re gonna do this every year!” No mention was made of having an audience next time.