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Seven Ways Tonight’s The Sound of Music Will Differ From the Classic Film

Grüss Gott, my fellow Austrians! The moment has finally arrived: Tonight is NBC’s live broadcast of The Sound of Music starring Carrie Underwood, Vampire Bill, and Tom from Smash (!!!). (Vulture will be live-tweeting.) However, as human beings have been conditioned since the late sixties to watch Julie Andrews’s movie version every year around this time, fans should prepare themselves for the fact that tonight’s production will differ from that rendering of the classic. Underwood & Co. will be reenacting Rodgers and Hammerstein’s original Broadway version from 1959, which was considerably altered for the film, and some of the staples you’re planning to mouth along to (or sing, full voice, without giving a damn who hears you) will not be there. As a holiday public service, here are the ways the stage musical differs from the film. Gird your edelweiss-scented loins appropriately.

1. There will be no puppets during “The Lonely Goatherd.” The goatherd, the oddly buxom pale pink coat girl, and her gloating mama, resplendent in purple, who I always thought looked a little bit like a red-haired Carol Channing: All gone. The Uncle Max of the Broadway version is a libertine social climber who would no more buy the children of his benefactor an elaborate puppet theater with someone else’s money than he would take voluntarily to the streets of Vienna to scrub pavements with his own toothbrush. What’s more, in the stage musical “The Lonely Goatherd” isn’t a performance given by the children for the benefit of the idle rich, but rather the song Maria sings to the children during the thunderstorm shortly after she arrives at the house — because what better cure for childhood night terror than a vaguely bawdy ditty about the erotic life of solitary mountain men? “My Favorite Things,” the song that served as balm for thunder-induced anxiety in the film (arguably with greater dramaturgical elegance), is sung onstage instead by Maria and the Mother Abbess to buck up Maria’s spirits before she leaves the abbey to face the World of Men, which means Carrie Underwood and Audra Goddamn McDonald are going to sing a duet. We’ll get to see if Audra makes the same acting choice I was planning when I was cast in that role in high school before I had to drop out owing to the production dates conflicting with my synagogue youth group trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau (true story): that the Mother Abbess is secretly Maria’s biological mother. 

2. The Baroness isn’t the one who tells Maria that the Captain’s in love with her. There is no passive-aggressive kiss-off of “you’ll make a very fine nun,” which Eleanor Parker delivered with the greatest line reading in cinematic history as she eagerly helped a chagrined Maria flee back to the chaste walls of the abbey. That scene doesn’t exist in the stage version, where it’s Brigitta von Trapp who confronts her governess with the knowledge that the reciprocal hotsies between Maria and the Captain have not gone unnoticed. Nor is the Captain’s obvious boner (is that a boat whistle in your pocket, Georg, or are you just happy to see me?) for his lissome young employee the main reason the Baroness decides she’s got better things to do than stand around in the backyard pretending to enjoy folk music while Kurt hurls a soccer ball at her tits. The Baroness doesn’t initiate the split at all, as she does in the film. Rather, it is the captain who breaks their engagement when the Baroness suggests he docilely go along with whatever the Anschluss asks of him, for the sake of self-preservation.

3. There will be more Nazis. Okay, not a lot more — it’s not exactly Cabaret. But the politics of the day are far more front and center in the stage show. Herr Zeller, the loathsome local Nazi, has a brief run-in with a pair of defiant Austrian patriots at the von Trapp ball. Max and Elsa are far more aware — and vocal — about their apathy, if not sympathy, toward the impending German invasion. And of course, there’s the unnamed Nazi stooge leading the Von Trapps to the stage at the Salzburg festival, whose typically stentorian interpretation of his single line — “This way” — my mother loves to quote to this day.

4. There will also be more songs, and some of them will be different. Elsa and Max have a song, “There’s No Way to Stop It,” about their sophisticated fatalism toward the political situation (say what you will about the Nazis, darling, their uniforms are impeccably tailored). And besides, Tony winner Christian Borle plays Max in tonight’s TV production, and why would you put him in something and not let him sing? (Oh, wait … ) Elsa and Max* also sing a duet, “How Can Love Survive,” about how terribly unromantic it is to both be so terribly, terribly rich. Both are about as arch and world-weary as the lyricist of “The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends” can possibly muster. However, NBC is sticking with the movie in one instance: They won't be doing Broadway's “An Ordinary Couple,” a love duet between Maria and the Captain. A strident march about duty and proscribed gender roles, it has none of the whispery, tormented Catholic sex-longing of “Something Good,” which replaced it in the film and will apparently be sung tonight. Maybe Stephen Moyer can steam it up at the end when he sinks his fangs into Carrie Underwood’s neck.

5. No “I Have Confidence”! It’s my favorite song, too. I’m sorry.

6. No pixie cuts. Neither Julie Andrews’s winsome strawberry blonde George Harrison mop, nor Mary Martin’s sensible If–Gertrude Stein–Got-a-Hair-Makeover-on–What Not to Wear military fade will grace the gorgeous Nordic head of Carrie Underwood, who has wisely opted for “Attitude #4” from the Eva Braun Wig and Hairpiece Collection. To be fair, I wear my hair that way all the time, too. It’s great for when you didn’t have time to do your roots.

7. The end is totally different. You remember the end of the movie version of The Sound of Music: They hide in the abbey, where Gretl wants to sing about their favorite things, and Julie Andrews kindly but firmly tells her that this is not a good time. (Babies were smothered in the Warsaw Ghetto for less. I’m just saying.) Then Rolf finds them and Christopher Plummer, at his drunkest and most devastatingly handsome, makes him question his heterosexuality in the cemetery until he has no choice but to blow his Freudian whistle of sublimated desire and it’s Dachau for the lot of them — except the nuns somehow know how to take the battery out of the Nazi car and the Von Trapps are able to escape. That’s pretty much the way it will happen Thursday night, too, except that Stephen Moyer’s Captain glamours Rolf into submission, then rips his penis off with his bare hands, then the S.S. men come in and Russell Edgington comes flying out of his coffin and starts killing nuns, and the whole thing turns into a total naked bloodbath that looks like something out of Ken Russell’s The Devils. Okay, I’m kidding. But the whole thing is a lot more condensed.

* This post has been corrected to note that Elsa's duetting partner on "How Can Love Survive?" is Max, not the Captain. And previously, below that, it originally said that the show will do the original musical's "An Ordinary Couple," when in fact it will do the film's "Something Good."

Photo: NBC and 20th Century Fox