Carrie Underwood stars in NBC's 'The Sound of Music Live!' on Dec. 5
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 for her role 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, at first glance she 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," says Meron, who notes that she arrived two weeks before the production's six-week rehearsal began with her lines fully memorized, to get a head start.
"Every day," she says during a break, "I feel like I discover new things and how to go places in acting that I didn't think I could go."
Even if she's a drama neophyte as she faces her "Sound of Music" trial by fire, Underwood, by one measure, is the cast's old hand: No one knows live TV, and its pressures, like she does.
"But this time, there's no chance of me being voted out," she laughs. "I'm here to stay."
As she speaks, it's a scant 16 days until the broadcast. By week's end, cameras (as many as a dozen) and tons of other broadcast equipment would be brought in. In the parking lot, TV trucks would join the city of dressing-room trailers.
During Thanksgiving week, the ensemble is rehearsing in full costume.
Already, the cast has recorded a "Sound of Music Live!" album, due for release Dec. 3. A home-video edition of the broadcast goes on sale Dec. 17.
If graced with good ratings, this won't be the last such musical event staged live for TV, says Meron.
And in any case it ends a drought that had persisted, in effect, since the birth of video tape made live TV unnecessary and, apart from news and sportscasts, nearly extinct. Helping close out that live-TV era: "Cinderella," performed and aired by CBS on March 31, 1957, and starring 21-year-old Julie Andrews.
A made-for-TV musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, "Cinderella" was one of many collaborations by these Broadway titans that began with their pioneering 1943 musical "Oklahoma!" and continued through "The Sound of Music" 16 years later, with Mary Martin creating the role of Maria. It ran for more than 1,400 performances and won five Tonys, including a trophy for best musical.
"There's an inevitability to what they do," says Borle, when asked what continues to set Rodgers and Hammerstein apart. "The material is so lovely, you just show up and try to do it justice."
That's what he and his co-stars plan to do the night of Dec. 5, for three hours start to finish, with no reshoots and no postproduction fixes to fall back on.
"There's an excitement about that," Benanti says. "It feels dangerous. Anything could happen!
"Even if you're only curious," she adds invitingly, "you should watch."
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