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.
Meron's message: Everybody knows "The Sound of Music," or thinks they do from the 1965 film nearly everyone has seen. But relatively few fans are acquainted with the stage original. Drawing from it, "The Sound of Music Live!" is meant to feel familiar, yet at the same time come across as new and different.
Consider: Moyer with castmates Laura Benanti (as Baroness Elsa Schrader) and Christian Borle (as Max Detweiler) are rehearsing a couple of weeks later 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.
"Plenty of nothing you haven't got. How can love survive?" Max tunefully teases the wealthy Elsa, who, in her posh relationship with her fiancé, Capt. von Trapp, can never count theirs among "all the famous love affairs [where] lovers starve and snuggle."
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.
There are still no costumes — at the moment, Borle is wearing jeans and a Batman T-shirt — but by now the entire production has redeployed to a cavernous Long Island, N.Y., soundstage.
Grumman Studios' Stage 3, with square footage rivaling a football field's, is now home to the terrace, along with five neighboring sets evoking pre-World War II Austria including the abbey, a festival site draped with huge swastikas and the summit over which (spoiler alert) Maria, the Captain and his seven children pass to flee the Nazis at the musical's conclusion.
It is for this soaring finish that Audra McDonald reprises "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," the breathtaking anthem that Mother Abbess introduces as she sends Maria into the world and into the von Trapp household.
"In that scene, Mother Abbess is giving Maria tough love, kicking her out of the abbey," says McDonald. "But Carrie is so moving and so sweet, my challenge is to not cry when I sing it."
When she sings it, McDonald is fully capable of bringing to tears everyone within earshot. She 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," 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!"
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."
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 for her role as Gypsy Rose Lee in the 2008 Broadway revival of "Gypsy."