Friday, December 6, 2013

The Sound of Mediocre, Brought to you by NBC

Me and my big mouth. When my nephew, Myles, asked me if he could share my initial reaction to Carrie Underwood playing Maria with an editor-friend who was interviewing him for, I obviously didn’t consider the outcome. (6738 comments so far. No, I didn’t bother to read them all.) Now I’m being quoted by entertainment journalists and bloggers, and I’m being criticized by perfect strangers for my opinions, which is kind of annoying, because since this is about my immediate family (we're not blood-sucking distant relations like some of the comments suggested) I think I have a right to express those opinions. Unfortunately, this experience has turned out to be more about fall-out from expressing those opinions than from the performance itself. It actually solidifies for me why, up until starting this blog, I mostly avoided the topic all together. After this post, I’m ready to go back to maintaining a low profile. So don’t expect to see any more activity on this blog. I’m thinking this will be my swan song.

But first, I feel obligated to finish what I started. For all of you who clamored for public apologies for criticizing Carrie Underwood, I’m sorry to disappoint you, because you’re not going to get one. I stand by what I said in last year’s post. She’s a talented country music star, but she is not an actress. And I think she proved that to the world last night. She kicked-ass on Lonely Goatherd – yes the girl can yodel. But beyond that I found the overall production to be completely underwhelming and mediocre at best. I kept wondering why NBC would settle for a community theater quality production. Boston Herald arts editor Michael Perigard really captured it well in his review.

As with many things, this is all a matter of personal taste and opinion. I know many people loved it, loved Carrie, thought it was great, enjoyed the nostalgia trip, etc. Many of my family members disagree quite strongly with my opinion. They asked me to keep an open mind. I tried. They declared it spectacular. I disagreed. My niece texted me, “I don’t think I understand what purpose being super critical or negative about this serves. I think they are doing it fine, anyone under 20 or so don’t really know the story. Now they will.” Ok. Good point. I wasn’t intending to be super-critical or negative, I questioned the original casting choices, and then waited to see what turned out. Personally, I think the best thing about last night’s performance was that it exposed the world to the original Broadway production, which had some great songs that never made it to film.

For everyone who thought the whole thing was wonderful and that NBC did a spectacular job, I say maybe your expectations weren’t high to begin with. If they hoped to have created a new holiday classic, I think they missed their mark. I expect most of that $9M was spent hyping last nights performance. (Then again, I could just be jaded, an arrogant snob and dead wrong.) Maybe my mistake is having higher expectations overall, and especially when classics – theater or film – are involved. If you’re going to do it, do it right. Here’s just another example how poor the quality of TV has become because viewers require so little to keep them glued to the set. We should all demand a little more for our viewing time, don’t you think?

And for all of you who feel sorry for Carrie, I really wouldn't worry too much about it. She’s a pro – she can take a little criticism. She got a lot of publicity out of this. And she’s probably laughing all the way to the bank.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Sound of Music Remake: My Cast Picks So Far

So I've been reading what other bloggers are saying about the remake of the Sound of Music. I have to say I'm heartened by the number of purists out there who agree with me - somethings just can't be remade! But since it seems to be inevitable, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, I say. There's fun to be had deciding who will be cast in the remaining lead roles. I've curated a few posts here. Some suggestions I agree with, others I don't. Who knows, maybe an NBC executive will even pay attention. 

I do think the ability to sing and act should be prerequisites. I also like prefer classically trained, European born choices, but I'm biased. VH1 Celebrity's Elizabeth Black, who appears to be a SoM purist, offered some solid choices in her post, Now That Carrie Underwood Is Maria Von Trapp, Who Else Should Be Cast In The Sound Of MusicRemake? I agree with her suggestions of Colin Firth as The Captain. Alternatively, I suggest Victor Garber, who pulled off Daddy Warbucks in Annie quite nicely. I also like her pick, Maggie Smith, for the Mother Abbess (again, if she can sing). However, I cannot support her suggestions for Baroness Schraeder, (Lindsay Lohan for obvious reasons and Hayden Paniettiere because she's too young, and that would distort the story further).

Someone identified by the handle, "PrettyCuteLoveBaby" posted her Dreamcastlist on IMbd and made a solid suggestion of Scarlett Johansen as the Baronness. That portrayal I would buy in a heartbeat.  I also like her suggestion for Gretl - Maggle Elizabeth Jones from We Bought a Zoo. I'm not familiar her other suggestions. She made this list three months ago though, before all this happened. I wonder if she knew what was coming? Bill Murray as Max Detweiller? Maybe, but I'm not completely sold.

OnFlavorwire, blogger Emily Temple also offered some good suggestions. Hugh Jackman as the Captain might just have to duke it out with Victor Garber and Colin Firth for my vote. (We'll see how he does as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables before making a final decision). She also suggested Julie Andrews should play the Mother Abbess (in lieu of Maggie Smith? Perhaps). But that might be tough for Julie who might be compelled to slap Carrie if she doesn't pull it off. Here's where I really wish they would use Ann Hathaway as Maria. I disagree with her suggestion of Catherine Zeta-Jones as Baronness Schraeder, but whole heartedly agree, Hugh Grant would make a GREAT Max Detweiller. The rest of her suggestions, I've never heard of.

It's been pointed out that this is a television budget NBC is working with, not a feature film budget, so the choices may be restricted by the actors' price tags. But you'd think the ratings they're bound to get will be worth it. Because we all know, like the idea of a remake or not, the sad truth is that we'll all be watching just to see if NBC can pull it off.  

Sunday, December 2, 2012

It's gonna be a tough climb for Carrie Underwood as Maria von Trapp in the Sound of Music

The news came through Skype chat, a couple texts, Facebook, and at least one email: "Hey, did you know Carrie Underwood has been cast a to play Maria in NBC's remake of the Sound of Music?" (Made for TV? Really? has it come to this?). This on the heels of Larry Hagman's death, and I find myself caught once again in this surreal world that exists when your family has been immortalized in history (not to mention in song) by Broadway and Hollywood.

(What does JR's death have to do with all of this? Larry Hagman's mother was Mary Martin, who played Maria in the original Broadway production of the Sound of Music. And while he didn't know me from Adam, I always felt a certain kinship. After all, his REAL mother portrayed my REAL grandmother in a fictionalized musical based on the her autobiography. Bizarre thought, right?)

 Anyway, it was the news of the SOM remake and in particular, Carrie Underwood as Maria that really got me. First of all, after 48 years in circulation, is it really possible to remake the SOM? That would be like trying to remake Gone with the Wind (and I haven't heard about anyone trying to do that yet). Its saving grace may be that it will be an adaptation of the original Broadway musical, rather than a remake of the Hollywood blockbuster. (If you've never seen a version of the stage production, there are a number of different songs, and it's slightly darker than it's 'made-for-family-viewing film counterpart.)

 But Carrie Underwood as Maria? Seriously? I mean, I have nothing against her personally - she's an extremely talented country singer, but I'm pretty sure my father  is repeatedly rolling over in his grave. Since the movie version of SOM won an Academy Award the year I was born, it's always been easy to identify with Julie Andrews' portrayal of  my grandmother. It's a little harder to envision Carrie that way. (But I do realize that's what happens when Hollywood freezes time.) And while the girl can sing (although her voice lacks the Soprano purity of Julie Andrews) can she act? I'd like to know who else was in the running. Personally, I'd have put my money on Ann Hathaway, who in her upcoming role as Fantine in Les Miserable, proves that she can act and sing.

One thing is for sure, the news has created quite a stir on Facebook among the von Trapp cousins of several generations. While opinions are mixed, it seems most of us don't think Carrie can quite fill Dame Julie Andrews' dirndl; or Mary Martin's, for that matter. With all this indignation among the third and fourth generations, it makes me wonder, when they cast the original movie, what sort of comments my father and his siblings had about the actors who were portraying them and their parents. Maybe that's why they changed the names of the children.

 In any case, what's done is done. It will be interesting to see how this all evolves from now until the movie airs sometime in 2013. Good luck to you, Carrie. We're a tough bunch to impress, and we'll be watching! ~ F.v.T

Friday, December 31, 2010

Rest in Peace, Tante Agathe (Agathe von Trapp March 12, 1913 - December 28, 2010)

Tante Agathe died on December 28, 2010. I got an email from my brother George, forwarding the news from Aunt Lynne to all of the family. I was glad to get the notice, because before the end of the day I was getting condolences posts on Facebook from friends who had read about her death in the news. It would have been a bit of a shock that they knew before I did. That’s one interesting thing about being part of a famous family. It’s very likely that the general public hear about what for most is rather personal news before you do. It even made headlines in the local Phoenix paper, The Arizona Republic.

Agathe was 97, second oldest of the original children and closest in age to my father. I wish I had known her better. Most of my life, she lived in Maryland where she ran a preschool with her friend, Mary Lou Kane. I have no childhood recollections, and only knew her to be a quiet, gentle woman who I re-introduced myself to in the maybe 3 times I saw her in the past 20 years. (Hello Tante Agathe. Yes, I’m Francoise, Rupert’s youngest daughter. So nice to see you again!)

She was the family historian. I probably know her best through the family genealogy and autobiographies she wrote late in life. It was from her book that I learned about my father’s childhood with his own mother and grandmother; the places they lived, the games they played; how sweet and gentle and humorous Grandfather really was. I learned about the pageants they would put on, the games they played, and the dog they had that could pull them in a cart. There really was a whole story to it even before Maria came on the scene. My father never really talked about it much, so I’m grateful to Tante Agathe for having penned her memoirs.

Here’s what else I found myself thinking about when I learned of her death. Is it sad when someone dies at 97, or is it a celebration that they lived such a long, full and rich life? People offered condolences and said “I’m sorry to hear about your aunt’s passing.” I wasn’t sure how to respond, because I was thinking how amazing it is that she lived so long. My father died at 80 when I was 27. How cool would it have been if he had also lived to 97?

So I asked my friend Harry, who is 91. He’s my sister-in-law’s father who has become a surrogate father of sorts since I moved to Arizona. He lives in a retirement community, still drives a car, plays golf, has a “lady friend”, goes to the theater, drinks a beer now and again, and is great company. He called yesterday to say he was sorry to hear the sad news. That’s when I realized that for someone who is living the life of Riley at 91, news of a contemporary’s death at 97 is just as much of a shock as it would be for me to find out someone close to my age had died. Harry said it depends on if they were sick and failing or not. It’s sad if someone still had a full life, a blessing if someone was ailing and had no quality of life.

I like to think Tante Agathe is rejoining her loved ones who have gone before her. Rest in Peace, Tante Agathe, and give Papa a hug and kiss for me.

Note: Agathe's  book is available at both Amazon and the Trapp Family Lodge online store. I just went to look for the link to the books on Amazon. The price has jumped from $21.95 for a new book to $167.21 for new, $777.00 for used and $2000 for a collectible edition. This completely blows my mind. At the Trapp Family online store, it’s still available for $13.99.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Random Encounters

It’s funny, what triggers the memories. I was on a walk this evening, and passed by a house with a refurbished 1974 Karmann Ghia for sale in the driveway. This is not a car you see very often. It made me think of Mutter, who was known for speeding around Stowe in her blue convertible Karmann Ghia, which, if I recall correctly, she eventually wrecked, breaking her leg for her efforts. It also made me think of a story.

We were still living in Bolton, Massachusetts, and had just hired Curt Plante to do some major renovation on our house. Through the process, we became friends with Curt and his wife, Holly. For my birthday, Curt presented me with a birthday card with three photos inside; two of the old Lodge from before the fire and one of Mutter at the wheel of the aforementioned Karmann Ghia. Turns out Curt’s mother had visited the Trapp Family Lodge back in the early 70’s and had taken these pictures. Although I had dozens of photos of the new Lodge, I had very few of the old Lodge, so getting these meant a lot. Encounters like this is what’s cool about being a von Trapp.

Mutter (Maria) in her Karmann Ghia in front of the Old Lodge

Old Lodge in Summer

Old Lodge in winter.

That reminds me of a more recent one: I was shopping at the Dress Barn, and when I made my purchase and handed over my credit card, the store associate did the classic and well recognized double take. Wait for it, wait for it, I told myself, expecting the usual Sound of Music reference. What came next surprised me; it doesn’t happen often out here in Arizona. “von Trapp. Of THE von Trapps….. The ones who own the Lodge in Stowe, Vermont? I grew up in St. Albans.” These are the connections I warm up to right away. She looked to be about my age, so I asked, “Really? Do you know the Walsh’s in St. Albans?” (My friend, Katie Walsh Lizewski, grew up in St. Albans, which is not a large city by most standards. She comes from a family of 10, so the likelihood of this woman knowing was good.) She said she thought she knew a Sean Walsh. I’m pretty sure that’s Katie’s brother. I left the store feeling like I had run into an old friend. And as always, I marveled at the smallness of the world.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Riding the Riesenrad

My friend Beverly Malley just got back from a trip to Vienna, and in her photos that she posted on Facebook, there was a shot of the giant ferris wheel that lives  in the Prater, Vienna’s famous amusement park. Speaking of dreams come true, did that bring back some memories…

When I was a little girl, I was fascinated by the album cover of the Boston Pop’s Viennese Nights, because the photo was of the most enormous ferris wheel I’d ever seen. My father told me it was located in Vienna, and it was largest ferris wheel in the world, with cars that held about 20 people. One day, he said, he would take me to Austria and we would go for a ride on it. Life circumstances interfered with that little plan, but although we didn’t get to ride the Riesenrad (the great wheel’s official name) together, he did make sure I got to it when I went off on my post-college backpacking trip with Hope, Ellen and Heather.

Two weeks into the trip and we finally made it to Vienna. The Riesenrad was a Holy Grail of sorts for me. Thanks to the guidance of my father’s friends, the Eggers, (remember them? I talked about them when I wrote about the Sound of Music Tour) who we visited on our first afternoon in the city, we found our way to the Prater. The quest became even more significant, because when we were at the Eggers' house, I made a phone call to Papa, only to discover he was in the hospital, recovering from a mild heart attack. I was told there was no need to come home – but at that moment, I was tempted to catch the next flight. Instead, at the urging of all, we went to the Prater and rode on the wheel. I sent this postcard to my father:

If you can't read it, it says:
Dear Papa and Jan, 
I finally got to ride on the big ferris wheel. I've finally fulfilled my childhood dream. We've also been to the Spanish Riding School, but couldn't get in - only saw some of the horses. The highlight of Vienna was our afternoon with Herr und Frau Egger - absolutely lovely people! We had a swim in the pool and then were invited for dinner - probably the best meal we've had in two weeks! After this experience, my travelling companions are very eager for me to call all your other friends, and I certainly will! We've decided to add Brugges, Belgium to our trip if there is time. There is so much to tell you, Papa, so get well quick for me. I love you! Francoise.

How often do we get to realize our childhood fantasies like that? I’m not even sure Hope, Heather and Ellen realized what a big deal it was for me to finally make that wish come true. The view at night was amazing. Well worth the effort if you ever get the chance.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Salzburg 2010

Lots of starts and stops  lately – some memories turn out to be just too personal to put in a blog, you know? I think its time to fast-forward to recent events.  If  that triggers other memories, I'll get back to them.....

I fulfilled an almost-life-long dream last week (life-long, in regards to my daughters’ lives.) I finally took them to see Salzburg. The city holds meaning for me way beyond the Sound of Music. I’ve now been there four times, although 20 years passed between the second and third visits. My father would have been pleased, I think. He died before my girls were born, and I’ve always been sad that they never got to know each other.

It was a quick trip. We were in Germany for two weeks visiting Holger -- also Jessie and Savannah’s first visit there -- so we took the train from Munich to Salzburg just for the day. It’s so hard to cram everything in – and we didn’t want to cram. We weren’t there to just be American tourists – 10 cities in as many days. This is just a starter trip, with many more to come. So we decided the Salzburg visit would be treated as such. We stuck to what we could get to on foot from the Hauptbahnhof.

I had a plan – take them the same route I took my first time – by the International Youth Hotel where I'd stayed with Hope, Heather and Ellen and two years later, with Katie, to the market at St. Andrew’s Church across from Schloss Mirabell, across the river to the Öesterreichischer Hof, where my parents stayed on their visit, to the Alte Stadt (old city). I mapped it out in my mind – get out of the Hauptbahnhof and turn left, walk to Paracelsustrasse , go right, the International Youth Hotel would be there… Except I hadn’t counted on so much renovation…

We arrived in at the station, completely under construction. I was lost. I pretended I knew where I was going. 15 minutes later as the girls informed me we’d just made a huge circle, I gave up and reluctantly admitted I had no idea where to go. Savannah pointed out the information booth. We went in, got directions….and a map…. and set out again. Jessie took charge of the map. I gave up on finding the International Youth Hotel. It was hot and humid – unusual for Salzburg, and there were more important things than my trip down memory lane. Plus, I reminded myself, this was a scouting trip. I toyed with taking them on the Sound of Music Tour –but an afternoon on a bus was not what we had in mind, after a morning on the train. I thought about taking them to Aigen to see my father's house. We all agreed –next time! The rest, we could see on foot.

Once we got past the new construction, things started to look familiar. There was St. Andrews Church and the market, in full swing. Drinks all around, and cross the street to Mirabell Gardens , where scenes from the Do-Re-Mi sequence were shot. Recognize anything?

We crossed the river. Last time I was here, my mother asked me if I went into the Öesterreichischer Hof? Honestly, it never even occurred to me to go inside a hotel where I was not a guest. So this time, we went in. It’s now the Hotel Sacher Salzburg, having been acquired by the Hotel Sacher in Vienna. Still, it was the same building, and very elegant. I felt out-of-place and oh so American just walking into the lobby. The original plan, just have coffee and cake in the restaurant. Not happening - we were waaaaaay underdressed. The man at the reception desk “ Kann ich sie Hilfe?” (Can I help you?) Flustered, my resolve to use my newly acquired German flew right out the window. “Um, nein, Danke. My parents stayed here years ago…. I just wanted to see it.” I thought about coming right out with it “my father, Rupert von Trapp, used to stay here when he visited Salzburg.” Couldn’t do it. Not sure why…

So then – on to the next destination.. the Alte Stadt (old city). All the way, I pointed out other Sound of Music spots to the girls, in addition to Mozart’s birthplace.

We rode up the funicular and took an audio tour of the Festung, and then visited some of the museums within the fortress, the Salzburger Marionettentheater museum among them. Among the recent productions is, you guessed it, The Sound of Music. I wondered about the Lonely Goatherd scene – marionettes playing with marionettes –a bit ironic, don’t you think? They had those cutouts where you stick your face in and take a photo. There was a nice British couple who offered to take our photo, if we would take theirs. Sure, I said, wondering what they would do if they knew a real von Trapp had taken their photo at this spot. But neither the girls nor I offered the information. It was more fun to fly under the radar and keep it to ourselves.

Lunch at the top, then made our way back down to tour through the churches. Jessie and Savannah were awed by splendor of these cathedrals, especially when you consider the period of time when they were constructed. As for me, I was just pleased that they could appreciate all of this at age 16.

By evening, we were ready to return to Munich – slept most of the way… already thinking about what we’ll visit NEXT time…