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The morning after the hills were (a)live.

The Sound of Music - Season 2013Last night NBC brought us a live, theatrical event – by their own description, the first of its kind in over 50 years – a broadcast of (more or less) the stage version of The Sound of Music.  

This morning, my Facebook and Twitter feeds closely resemble a warzone – a warzone full of opinions, many of which are opinions about opinions.  Plenty of strains of “how dare you criticize this, it provided work for hundreds of people and exposed millions to our artform” have been greeted with passionate chants of “how dare you criticize me for speaking my mind” – and, you know, everything in between.  As with anything on the internet, a bit of rational objectivity can go a long, long way.

Should artists Tweet about other artists?  Should anyone Tweet while watching a piece of art?  Is our culture moving to a place where the majority of its denizens will no longer take risks – they will merely comment on the few who actually do put themselves on the proverbial line?  These are the big questions that many people are pondering this morning – and I think it’s an exciting discussion to have.

At the end of the day, “there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s…”  Discussion is healthy, and frankly – how incredibly wonderful it is that people, young/old/near/far, were able to share a common experience, and talk about it.  As for the broadcast itself, I’m not a critic and don’t have much interest in dissecting what worked or didn’t work, but I did notice a few things worth mentioning.   

Broadway regular Bret Shuford raised a wise point:


Of course, the 1965 film did not have an audience – but it was also a film, employing authentic scenic elements, mountains, lighting, and on and on and on.  Would it have made a difference to add a studio audience to the broadcast?  It certainly would have been a different experience for us – though I’m not sure that it would have been better or worse.  Instead of semi-snarky tweets about the broadcast feeling like a soap opera (I’m guilty of one of those, for the record), we would probably have been greeted with semi-snarky tweets about it feeling like The Cosby Show – or wondering if Fonzie would be getting more entrance applause than the Mother Abbess.  

Slam dunks are rare in the arts; universal acclaim is non-existent.  The difficulty here is that its source material (or at least the original film version thereof) is as close to being universally beloved as anything I can think of (though, even it has its detractors) – so,  when you stop and reflect upon it, it’s easy to be struck by what a courageous and risky decision this entire prospect was from the outset.  But – just because something’s risky and/or employing people, doesn’t mean that we have to adore it.  What prompted me to write down these musings is the question for which I do not claim to know the answer: is it possible to be supportive and snarky at the same time?

I have been a casting director in NYC for the last 11 years.  I have worked on brilliant shows.  I have worked on lousy shows.  I have worked on brilliant shows that some people felt were lousy, and also the reverse.  I have worked with and know most of the people who were involved in last evening’s broadcast – some of them are good friends – and, as it is for me, their participation in any show/broadcast/movie/tour or other job is just that – a job (and, by its very nature, a pursuit in which I want to support them.)  Sometimes we get lucky and a job is immensely fulfilling on both artistic and financial levels – sometimes on neither.  But let us not be terrified by the notion that, if we speak critically about anything that is produced, then nothing else will be produced.  Did I have quibbles and/or massive issues with last night’s broadcast?  Yes.  Were there also things about it that I absolutely loved – things that I never would have had the creativity to think of myself – things that moved me and made me feel wonderful?  Yes.  And I would hate to think that any of the artists involved would be discouraged to continue creating because of a social media punchline. So where do we draw the line?

When I was 18, I worked as a production assistant on a Broadway-bound musical (that never quite made its way to New York.)  A much-beloved, famous actor was starring in the show and showed me enormous kindness, letting me pick his brain on all of the things about which I was curious.  One night he was speaking about a well-known writer he had worked with – saying quite negative things.  A few months later I was visiting New York City and having dinner with Peter Filichia, the mensch of all mensches and one of the smartest theatre journalists in the biz.  When the topic of the well-known writer happened to enter the conversation, I regurgitated the much-beloved actor’s negative statement word-for-word – speaking with conviction, as if I had ever even met the person in question.  Peter accepted my comment at face value and, like the wise former school teacher he is, waited until the end of the evening to ask me “so, where’d you get that?” – knowing that it couldn’t have been my own original thought.    

A few hours before The Sound of Music aired last night, the world learned that Nelson Mandela had died at age 95.  That created an interesting contrast, with many people concurrently bitching about NBC’s broadcast, while posting things along the lines of:


Now, of course, that’s not too far off from a similar sentiment once expressed by another of our elder statesmen – the one who had a bit of a hand in last night’s main event.  So I think back to how readily and easily I repeated what I was taught, back when I was starting out and wanted to seem wise and knowing – and it makes me realize that, particularly for those of us who do work in the entertainment industry – that we have an obligation to be role models – not even in what we say, but in how we say it.  Heroes may be few and far between these days (just look at the heartache of professional baseball) but we can all strive to communicate in the honest and constructive ways whenever we’re given the opportunity.  

I include myself in this proclamation, by the way.  I tend to have strong opinions (particularly when the American musical theatre is involved) but I also tend to keep a lot of those thoughts far away from the internet.  The social media pulpit is a powerful one and I write in hopes of using that power for good more than just a cheap thrill – all the while remembering that nothing is so precious or holy that it should not be discussed.

At the end of the day, I’m grateful that The Sound of Music exists.  I’m grateful that this TV broadcast was initiated and seen to fruition.  I’m grateful that Craig Zadan, Neil Meron, Bob Greenblatt and others remain forward thinking risk-takers and visionaries.  I’m grateful that my friends and colleagues are able to make a living working in the arts and I’m grateful that I’m able to make a living working in the arts.  I’m also grateful that it was a ratings smash – hopefully that means that more “mass-market” musical theatre events will come to exist in coming years.

And, as I posted last night – right after Audra McDonald sang “Climb Every Mountain”:

If last night’s broadcast is responsible for exposing a new generation to a beloved story (and it, assuredly, is) – well, then I’m exceedingly grateful. 

  1. Bklyngal

    well said, Mr. Cassara!

  2. Garrett

    I do think this is well said; however, the social media aspect is what made this production most successful. I claim that Sound of Music, Live! would have never garnered the success it did had it aired 10 years ago. Being able to watch a live event with not only the family in my living room, but every family member and friend around the world, allows for the most communal and massive viewing session ever! I implore people to post while they watch.

  3. JoshRhettNoble

    You had me at “there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s…” 🙂 AMEN.

  4. Brenny Rabine

    I’m intrigued by the question of whether we can express support and “snark” at the same time. For me, the comments, complaints, etc. seemed to reveal far more about the speaker/tweeter/writer than about the artistic efforts of the team involved. This oversimplifies it, but my initial conclusion is that the more gratified, confident, and professionally empowered the “critic,” the more open to this kind of ambiguity you’re pointing to.

  5. James C. Glica-Hernandez

    Thank you for your thoughtful… and humbling… commentary, Mr. Cassara. I have been music directing for far too many years to even watch these things on television, I suppose. I wish I could sit back and relax so I can enjoy others in the act of making art. I know in my head I don’t always have to “on,” but it’s hard to stop hearing with the well-honed critical ear. I suppose I just need to learn to breathe more. My husband would be so happy if I did. 🙂

  6. WyohKnott

    Ah – but this success is not unprecedented – set your way-back machine to 1957 when very few people even HAD televisions…..
    from Wikkipedia:
    “Cinderella is the only Rodgers and Hammerstein musical written for television. It was originally broadcast live on CBS on March 31, 1957 as a vehicle for Julie Andrews, who played the title role. The broadcast was viewed by more than 100 million people.”

  7. Amy Engelhardt

    Great commentary (and tweet). Marc Shaiman also had some wonderful insight on his FB page. And nice to meet you at NAMT – hope to work with you in 2014!

  8. Dakine747@aol.com

    It was Lesley Ann Warren, not Julie Andrews, who played the title role.

  9. Dakine747

    Oooops, I guess it was Julie Andrews after all. I just remember seeing it in black-and-white and I assumed it was 1959. Sorry for the mistake

  10. Mel

    I had many of the conflicting feelings you share here. I alternately was charmed and dismayed and posted a few reactions on Facebook then realized I wasn’t really crazy about the idea of everyone posting while it was going on (not to mention my friend on the west coast who told us to shush as they were behind). As I look back on the televised production of Peter Pan that I LOVED as a child, I now have many of the same feelings – but I think I’ve come away with preferring seeing live shows filmed ON STAGE (like the Into the Woods with Bernadette Peters for example) because it gives a truer theatrical feel. It did feel like something was missing when there was no audience reaction and the unfortunate necessity of commercial breaks make social media almost irresistible, as if we are watching with our friends. Anyway – I’d rather see more live theatre on TV from a theatre than done in a studio. It just doesn’t translate well. I mean, would Carrie have performed better with adoring audience reaction after she opened her mouth? I know how performers are, and I think much of what felt wrong with last night might have been fixed with that important piece that was missing. Well, except for Rolf’s unfortunate costume.

  11. Just Sayin'

    You might want to take the elitism down a notch too.

  12. alisonfranck

    well said, Cassara, well said.

  13. myadvocate


  14. Bob

    Well said as are most of the comments here. High marks for high risk factors in attempting to do a beloved classic, most of the music, and the efforts. Sound quality terrible (using boom mics?) and acting a little tight but understandable for live tv. I hope they take stock of what went right, take aim at some things that could be done better and take another shot at this hybrid vehicle within the next year that can bring (or introduce) live theatre to millions of viewers in one night.

  15. katy123

    What would be completely AWESOME as a result of this, would be for Broadway performers to get some of these parts on TV, thus receiving the exposure and the resulting recognition/respect they deserve for their phenomenal talent.

  16. Neil Woodland

    Why would anyone Tweet while watching a live broadcast? They’re missing the opportunity to really take in the show. I have my own opinions about the show (only one real negative – most of the music in the wedding scene was omitted), but loved the show. And I’ve managed to hold back my opinions until now. Because I took the time to really enjoy the show.

  17. Kyle

    I had some similar thought. I think we can snark and support at the same time. I think as theatre artists so many of our FB friends and Twitter followers are also theatre people and when all we see are posts coming across from our theatre friends about the show you are watching it kind of feels that you are just bitching in the context of a club. That if someone on the street asked you might be more supportive than snarky.

    An elderly woman I’ve known all my life and did community theatre with as a kid was dismayed by all the negativity from her youthful FB friends and sent out a bit of a shame post, reminding us how the theatre community is supposed to be supportive of each other. I wrote her a friendly message basically stating that she was right, but that that honest and open discussion within the community is also heathy.

  18. Dawn Trautman

    Thank you for this! Everyone, including artists, must take great risks in order to achieve great things. Being discerning about the final product is one thing. Being vicious about the actual risk-taking has the danger of curbing future risks, and hurls us all toward mediocrity.

  19. Melissa

    I don’t really know a thing about acting or musicals… But I do know that Tim sounds like a total asshole!

  20. Richard Skipper

    I prefer to immerse myself in the production itself. I don’t need to be tweeting and texting my thoughts and comments while watching something. That is no different than people commenting in the theater on what they are seeing. I, for one, want no part of it. If I had seen some of these snarky comments while I was watching, it only would have distracted from the experience instead of adding to.

  21. Richard Skipper


  22. Richard Skipper

    Honest and open does not equal snarky

  23. Micki Sharpe

    Bravo MIchael!

  24. lacey

    Well said. Thank you for this truth.

  25. Your mother

    Dear Guest, Get over yourself. You are rude. But since you are an expert about everything, perhaps this is justified. I was pleased to read that your facebook “friends” pelted you with the review on your FB feed all day long. Excellent!

  26. Sam Meteoram

    While I don’t agree with his/her tone, there is certainly a point there- and a point that deserves its own column somewhere. Just kind of think that this was an appropriate place to say it.

  27. Catherine Jones

    I don’t think it’s fair to label highly regarding one’s own profession as “elitism.” If you spend your career and many years dedicated to building chairs, obviously you’ll have more (and more honed) opinions on chair-making than the average guy. Music directing requires you to set the bar for musical excellence above everyone else to get the cast to a higher level than when they walked into rehearsal.

  28. Catherine Jones

    It takes real courage to spray shit like this without including your name. Nicely done!

  29. James C. Glica-Hernandez

    Thank you, Catherine. I appreciate your support and accurate assessment. Just Sayin’, if you knew me personally, you’d understand there is nothing elitist about me. I’m just a simple guy who has been doing his job the best he can since 1976. As Catherine said, in doing so, it has it’s challenges, and being hypercritical can be one of them. That’s why I was so grateful to Mr. Cassara for reminding me to lighten up a bit. 🙂

  30. joehark

    I agree. As an analogy, for few years, I did a fair amount of travel writing. My newspaper and magazine clients expected that I include good quality photos. When that business dried up (thank you, Internet) I continued traveling just for myself. But I do not carry a camera. Without the need to deal with that, I can focus (OK, unavoidable pun) on what I am experiencing, instead of the perfect framing or the camera’s settings.

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