Mailbag: ‘Sound of Music’ casting upsets reader

By Rich Heldenfels
Beacon Journal popular culture writer

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Audra McDonald (left) and Neil Patrick Harris perform the finale at the 67th Annual Tony Awards, on June 9, 2013 in New York. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

You have questions. I try to have answers.

Q: Why was Audra McDonald even cast in that beautiful “Sound of Music” show? She may have a nice voice but she is black. A black nun in Nazi-occupied Austria would not have much of a chance. She was very much miscast. Other than that, she would be fine in another type of program.

A: Sigh. I take it that you had no problem that Carrie Underwood, an Oklahoman with a still noticeable accent, was playing a governess in Nazi-occupied Austria.

And I can safely guess that it did not worry you when women including Mary Martin played a boy in Peter Pan. (Martin, a native Texan, also played Maria in the original Broadway version of The Sound of Music.) Otherwise, you may be disappointed this December when NBC presents a live Pan telecast.

Stage productions — like many TV shows and films — are not always meant to be realistic. (Look again at the sets in NBC’s Sound of Music.) It’s a matter of getting a great performance. Mexican-American Anthony Quinn played Zorba the Greek. Vanessa Williams co-starred in a TV version of Bye Bye Birdie, and Brandy Norwood played Cinderella. There have been versions of The Odd Couple where both leads were black, or women. Do we really need to argue whether that was realistic?

To be sure, there have been plenty of times when casting across racial lines embraces awful stereotypes. (Mickey Rooney was cringe-worthy as a Japanese man in Breakfast at Tiffany’s). But McDonald, as I noted in an earlier Mailbag, is an award-winning singer and actress, and she was widely praised for her work in The Sound of Music. That should be enough.

Q: What ever happened to Stabler on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”?

A: Christopher Meloni, who played Elliot Stabler on the NBC drama, left the series in 2011 after a dozen seasons on the job. He has gone to other TV work like True Blood and movies like 42 and Man of Steel. He has a new series, the comedy Surviving Jack, coming to Fox on March 27. He plays a ’90s dad who has to take over more parenting duties after his wife starts law school.

q: Is that Matt Damon doing the voiceover in the TD Ameritrade commercial about the chef who ends up owning his own restaurant?

A: Not only in that ad. According to Reuters, movie star Damon signed a multi-year deal in 2012 to be the voice of the brokerage, succeeding Sam Waterston (Law & Order, The Newsroom). While praising Waterston, who did ads for the company for close to a decade, an Ameritrade executive told Reuters that Damon “is probably one of the most talented and recognizable voices in the world right now, and we want every edge we can get for the campaign.”

Q: What is the “The Orange Room” on the “Today” show and when did it start?

A: When NBC overhauled its morning-show set in September 2013, it introduced the Carson Daly-hosted Orange Room. That, says the network, “is the nexus point between the Today audience and the show, embracing the many ways that viewers seek out and share news across all media and allowing the show and its fans to connect in a variety of new ways. In a casual, lounge-like setting, the Orange Room will also be a hub of emerging technology, equipped for everything from social media hangouts, to extended live-stream interviews with guests, analysis of real-time social data and reactions from the web, as well as the home for Today’s original digital franchises.”

Do you have a question or comment for the mailbag? Write to the Akron Beacon Journal, 44 E. Exchange St., Akron, OH 44309 or Please mark the email or envelope with “mailbag.” Letters may be edited for publication. Please do not phone in questions. Individual replies cannot be guaranteed.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and, including the HeldenFiles Online, He is also on Facebook and Twitter.

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