December 6: My Favorite Things

I don’t really understand how or why “My Favorite Things” became Christmas album filler. Is it just the snowflake and mitten imagery? I’m not sure, but the history is long: (according to Wikipedia) this song first appeared on a Christmas album in 1964, before The Sound of Music came even out in theaters! Not surprisingly, in 1965, it appeared on a handful of Christmas albums, including The Supremes’, even though Diana Ross sings “raindrops AND roses” instead of “raindrops ON roses.” (oh MAN do I want these dresses. Inspired by Liesl?):

From Tony Bennett to Kelly Clarkson, most performers seem to put a slightly jazzy spin on the song, walking that tricky tightrope between John Coltrane and Julie Andrews. This version by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass captures everything that is right and good in life (…including the James Bond theme…?):

It should come as no surprise that I chose this song for my December 6 post, because the big NBC broadcast of The Sound of Music Live (SOML) was on December 5. It’s already been assessed, minute-by-minute, by everyone else on the internet, including me and all my friends, so I’m not going to do that again here. Basically everything I’d like to say about it is summed up in these two articles (written by not me):

  1. Drunken mocking here
  2. Why I hope NBC will not give up on this idea here
  3. On optimistic ambivalence here

In short, it was disappointing. And yet, I would still absolutely tune in (and organize local social events around) every freaking live musical production they decide to put on. Can you hear me, NBC? What can I say? I love spectacle.

This show got me thinking, a lot, about theater and movies and TV, and how hard it is to translate from one medium to another. Some random thoughts:

1) I think we can all agree that Carrie Underwood’s acting left something to be desired. So be it. But I don’t think she bears responsibility for the whole “why does this look so weird and fake and forced?”-ness of it all. I think theater just looks weird on TV. The norms and conventions of theater feel outsized on the small screen, even with great talent.

Like every good American, I grew up watching Mary Martin as Peter Pan (thanks for that, too, NBC!). That show had a tried and tested Broadway cast. But they also built a rickety fort out of chicken wire and jungle cardboard:

Oh, MM, you’re so good and I immediately regret putting you in the same category as Carrie Underwood, even if you did paint the knob on the wrong side of the door. OK, admittedly, there is more life in these three minutes than in three hours of SOML. But the point here is that there’s something about a theater and a stage that leaves me with no qualms about the chicken wire, while on TV I can’t stop thinking about it. I think it must be very, very hard to successfully televise a play–to help the audience forget about the apparatus of the performance and lose themselves in the story.

2) Speaking of Peter Pan, I’m suddenly thinking a lot about how these shows might have influenced one another. Mary Martin played Peter Pan on Broadway in the years before SOM started. The 1960 NBC broadcast was taped in the same year that she won a Tony for playing Maria. Surely there was some creative osmosis?

As many people learned to their horror on Thursday night, in the Broadway version of SOM, “My Favorite Things” is sung by Maria and the Mother Abbess before she leaves for the Von Trapp residence. But in the movie, as we all know, Maria sings this song with the children to chill them out during a thunder storm.

I think this was a good move, for what it’s worth, and not just because I’m more familiar with the film version. But when I watched the movie recently, I was struck by how much the children’s late-night shoutouts of their favorite things (“Birthday presents! Telegrams!”) reminded me of “Think Lovely Thoughts.”  Coincidence? Nah. I think someone figured out that it’s very charming to have small children in PJs spinning around and screaming for that loveliest of all lovely thoughts, that favorite of all favorite things: “CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!!”

Huh. And somehow, that took us back to the very beginning.

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