Saturday, May 3, 2008

Casting Quandaries III: The Problems Created By Maria

The casting of The Sound of Music became infinitely more challenging when Julie Andrews stepped into the role of Maria for the film. It’s interesting to ponder that Mary Martin was cast in the role in the original Broadway production after playing parts like Peter Pan and Annie Oakley. Those aren’t roles you would ever imagine Julie Andrews taking on.

Since the movie, what stage production will ever be able to live down the memory of Julie Andrews in one of the most beloved movies ever made? In the last revival, Rebecca Luker and Laura Benanti were consecutively cast as everyone’s favorite postulant, casting choices that followed the film’s lead (and both are tremendously talented women). But look at the choice—you could never imagine casting either Luker or Benanti as Peter Pan or Annie Oakley.

Casting a movie can be a very different exercise from casting a stage production. Often the integrity of the role is sacrificed for celebrity by casting someone who can’t sing too well, can’t sing the role the way it was written, or is too old for the part. Casting Julie Andrews as Maria was inspired, though it fits a film’s style more than it would probably fit a stage production (particularly in the way that The Sound of Music was reconceived for film). What the film captures in a close-up with Andrews may have been difficult for the stage to have successful communicated. I never saw Mary Martin on stage, but my understanding is that her performances were full of pluck, energy, and charm. I have a feeling her Maria didn’t abandon those traits (and the show was written to play to those strengths as well).

Yet, stage productions of The Sound of Music are always caught chasing after the beauty and charm of Julie Andrews, rather than going for someone with the plucky cow-town charms of a Mary Martin.

It’s interesting to compare this to the casting of Millie Dillmount in Thoroughly Modern Millie. The original Broadway Millie was going to be Erin Dilly, a very talented and versatile actress in the Julie Andrews vein (who played Millie in the original movie), but the show’s creators realized that they needed something different. It seems to me that their final choice—Sutton Foster—has more in common with Mary Martin than she would ever have with Julie Andrews. But then again, the needs of casting for the stage are something altogether different.

So, if I were to cast a stage production of The Sound of Music, I think it would be interesting to expand my horizons in casting Maria. A great role is open to many different interpretations, but I would love to see what a Sutton Foster type would do with the role . . . if I could only escape the movie.

the Broadway Mouth
May 3, 2008

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