Monday, August 14, 2006

today : I climb every mountain and ford every stream

Yes, I know that there are wars, mad ideologues trying to run the world, terrorists desperate to blow us all into red mist, bird flu (or has that been solved? A few months ago we were all going to die of it before the weekend and now it seems to have disappeared), the temperature is rising and soon we will all be boiled alive like lobsters, floods, famine, CJD, HIV, necrotising facciitis and Castro teetering on the edge of death (or actually dead, if you live in Miami). But I'm going to talk about TV.

The BBC has a new 'reality' talent show. called "How do You Solve a Problem like Maria?", it features a cast of unknown women on what is basically a three month long audition for the part of Maria in a West End production of The Sound of Music. It is quite possibly the most annoying TV show of all time, given that it features both Andrew Lloyd Webber and The Sound of Music. I don't know what the opposite of a dream team is, but this is it.

I don't understand the appeal of The Sound of Music. Actually I do. It's the same appeal that means that people like Chicken Nuggets or The Davinci code.

It strikes me that Rodgers and Hammerstein, as well as being involved in some of the best musicals of the twentieth century, also gave rise to some of the worst - uncluding Mister Lloyd Webber's entire oevre. Their error was to make musicals out of stories that were not really interesting, or just stupid. Carousel started it. A weird amalgam of ghost story, pastoral portrait, romance and coming of age story, Carousel featured some interesting tunes but was, when all's said and done, kinda pointless. It 's relative success gave the green light for a musical about The Von Trapp family, which in turn allowed people to believe a musical based on Whistle Down the Wind, TS Eliot, Trains, The Vietnam War, Joan of Arc and countless other rubbish stories would be a good idea. It's not.

Carousel also started R+H's annoying habit of writing some really popular but crap songs, an art that they began with You'll Never Walk Alone and perfected when it came to The Sound of Music (the song) and Climb Every Mountain. They have a lot to answer for. I blame them for every excruciating 'inspirational' ballad that we are now routinely tortured with, like Wind Beneath my Wings and Hero and The Power of Love. Simple (moronic) soaring (screeching), powerful (vomit inducing). Climb every mountain is the worst song of all time and Lorenz Hart must be spinning in his grave each time it is performed.

I don't know anyone who actually likes Andrew Lloyd Webber, or his musicals. In fact, this is one of the crucial tests that I conduct to see if people are going to be my friends or not. If they like ALW then I simply refuse to talk to them. Yes, like anyone who has been writing songs and tunes for decades, then the law of averages means that he has written one or two memorable tunes (although I can't exactly remember one just at this moment), but as a rule Mr Lloyd Webber is to good music what Anne Coulter is to the redistribution of wealth amongst the proletariat.

Anyway, it is not the stupidity of the musical nor the odiousness of MLW that is my problem with this show. I don't even object to the format, which is basically a standard public vote singing competitiion. I also suspect that the 'Millions' that Lloyd Webber and his co producers have riding on the succes of the show are rather helpfully subsidised by the premium rate phone voting.

The central problem with The Sound of Music is the 1966 film. Julie Andrews is so idenitified with the role that it is almost impossible to see anyone else doing it. Imagine someone other than Brando as Don Corleone or someone other than Bogart in The African Queen. It's hard.

Yet The Sound of Music, like any other dramatic text, is not a fixed entity. If the story, music and script were good enough there would be room for anyone else to play the part. In fact, a truly bold producer would go out on a limb and allow someone new and fresh to define the part for themself. When My Fair Lady was filmed Julie Andrews was cast aside for the non-singing, definitely non-cockernee Audrey Hepburn. To be honest , despite their memorable and iconic performances both Andrews and Hepburn are not really that good at defining their characters. In the film of My Fair Lady, let's face it. Hepburn's Eliza is a just a very beautiful woman with a bit of dirt on her face and her sqawking is just silly. She pulls off the entire role with screen presence and the charm that only true films stars possess, without ever really describing a character we can believe in.

In TSOM Julie Andrews is just not a flibbertygibbet or a clown. And the though of her climbing a tree and skinning her knee is quite preposterous. .Maria is tomboyish and the thing about tomboys is that they are defiantly uninhibited and physical - which inevitably means they have to be revealed as rather sexy. Julie is many things, and a great talent, but uninhibited, defiantly physical and ultimately rather sexy isn't three of them. Her screen presence is just too prim, proper, passionless and goddam English to be sexy. And rather than being the opposite of Cap't Von Trapp, she is simply his reflection.

Presented with an oportunity and an audience to show they are original, risky and imaginative, Andrew and Co are paying it safe. They are not looking for a new West End star. They are not even looking for a Maria. They are looking for Julie Andrews.

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