Starring as Maria in NBC's new version of "The Sound of Music," Carrie Underwood is clad in her own T-shirt and leggings plus a wedding veil as she reverently steps through the bare-bones Manhattan rehearsal space while three dozen castmates, on their feet as if in church, sing "How do you solve a problem like Maria?"
Underwood's procession ends at the "altar" (marked by a music stand) to join her groom, Capt. von Trapp, played by jeans-and-sweater-sporting Stephen Moyer.
During this preliminary run-through a few weeks ago, much work clearly remained to get "The Sound of Music Live!" ready for airtime at 8 p.m. Thursday, when it, along with everyone involved, will make history: More than a half-century has passed since a broadcast network has dared to mount a full-scale musical for live TV.
It would have been risky enough revisiting this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic on any terms. But this is no remake of the not-to-be-tampered-with Julie Andrews juggernaut, declares Neil Meron. Meron and longtime partner Craig Zadan are the telecast's Oscar-winning executive producers.
Instead, "The Sound of Music Live!" is the 1959 Broadway musical reimagined for TV, then given extra crackle with a live presentation.
Moyer with castmates Laura Benanti (as Baroness Elsa Schrader) and Christian Borle (as Max Detweiler) are rehearsing a saucy song titled "How Can Love Survive?" This song will be brand-new to most viewers of the telecast -- it was dropped from the movie.
This number, sung to an instrumental track recorded by a 40-piece orchestra, takes place on the sumptuous von Trapp terrace, complete with a fountain and a panoramic view of the Alps.
Audra McDonald as Mother Abbess sings the breathtaking anthem "Climb Ev'ry Mountain."
McDonald is a classically trained soprano, a Tony- and Grammy-winning singer and stage actress who, for good measure, appeared for four seasons on ABC's "Private Practice."
Though best known as a vampire on HBO's "True Blood," Stephen Moyer, too, is a theater veteran. Last summer he returned to what he calls his first love, the musical stage, after 18 years' absence for a production of "Chicago" at the Hollywood Bowl. Then he reported for work on "The Sound of Music Live!"
Christian Borle, known to viewers from NBC's musical drama "Smash," boasts Broadway credits including "Legally Blonde: The Musical" and "Monty Python's Spamalot," and won a Tony for the comedy "Peter and the Starcatcher."
Laura Benanti, who starred last season on NBC's Matthew Perry comedy "Go On," has appeared in the Broadway musicals "Into the Woods" and "Nine," and scored a Tony as Gypsy Rose Lee in the 2008 Broadway revival of "Gypsy."
And then there's Carrie Underwood. Despite her status as a multiplatinum country music superstar who rose to fame as the winner of "American Idol" in 2005, might seem something of a wild card in the "Sound of Music" cast: She has never had a major acting role before.
"Carrie is one of the bravest artists we've ever worked with," said Meron, who notes that she arrived two weeks before the six-week rehearsal began with her lines fully memorized, to get a head start.
"The Sound of Music Live!" airs at 8 p.m. Thursday on NBC.
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