From Mary to Carrie: A Brief History of Maria von Trapps

In NBC's live production of The Sound of Music tonight, Carrie Underwood may be taking on the role popularized by Julie Andrews, but in the grand history of Rogers and Hammerstein's musical it's not just Carrie versus Julie. 

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In NBC's live production of The Sound of Music tonight, Carrie Underwood may be taking on the role popularized by Julie Andrews in the 1965 Oscar winning film version, but in the grand history of Rogers and Hammerstein's musical, it's not just Carrie versus Julie. Plenty of actresses have taken on the role of Maria von Trapp, from Broadway vets to future TV moms to Mormon pop stars. How do you solve a problem like Maria? With some of these ladies.

Mary Martin

Though Julie Andrews may live on in the popular memory, the original Maria was of course Mary Martin, a legend of the Broadway stage, who originated many of of the genre's classic heroines. (And, well, heroes. She played Peter Pan.) And though the choice of Carrie Underwood may have seemed off to some—like, well, us—the first Maria also had roots in the South. Martin was from Texas.

"Although Miss Martin, now playing an Austrian madien, has longer hair than she had in 'South Pacific,' she still has the same common touch that wins friends and influences people, the same sharp features, goodwill and glowing personality and the same plain voice that makes music sound intimate and familiar," Brooks Atkinson wrote in his review for the New York Times in 1959. Though his review was mostly positive, Atkinson was quite not as kind to the show in general, seeing it as a step backwards for Rogers and Hammerstein.

Here, Martin accepts her Tony for the part. You can hear her sing here.

Florence Henderson

Yes, the mom from The Brady Bunch took on the part in the national touring company production in 1961. The run was canceled early on the day after the assassination of JFK in 1963. Here is a picture of Henderson rehearsing from the Associated Press:

Julie Andrews

The ultimate Maria: refined, yet spunky. And that voice. Andrews got her Broadway break in 1956's My Fair Lady as flower girl Eliza Doolittle, a role she was encouraged to take by Sound of Music authors Rogers and Hammerstein. She would work with the duo a year later in the televised production of their Cinderella. The part of Eliza in the film version of Lerner and Loewe's Pygmalion adaptation eventually went to Audrey Hepburn, but the same year, 1964, Andrews would star in Mary Poppins, and take the Oscar. The next year came The Sound of Music.

Petula Clark

At the age of 49, British star Clark was definitely an older Maria when she played the role in the 1981 London revival, but that didn't seem to curb the praise for her performance. In fact, it's widely reported that the real life Maria, who saw the opening night performance of the show, called her the "best Maria ever." One review said: "Petula Clark, an artist who has suffered under the spectre of ageism ever since she was announced for the role of Maria, overcomes it in a way that should make her critics feel ashamed of themselves and gives a spoken and sung performance that is the very essence of youthful high spirits laden with indecision, bringing her own individuality to the songs."

Marie Osmond

Gaining a strange place on this list is none other than famous sibling Marie Osmond. Why? Well, she was the Maria this writer saw on stage when she was a little girl in the mid-1990s. The Los Angeles Times's Laurie Winer said Osmond looked "like Barbie come to life."

Rebecca Luker

When the production returned to Broadway in 1998, Rebecca Luker took on the role. "Although she pays homage to the most famous of Marias with a few of those bewildered hands-on-the-head gestures that were Ms. Andrews's signature, she doesn't try to match her predecessor's starched poise," Ben Brantley wrote in the New York Times in his review. "If Ms. Andrews was the dream governess, Ms. Luker is much more a girl's girl, and when she romps with her young charges, she seems like one of the gang. This persona doesn't provide the solid charismatic anchor that Ms. Andrews brought to the film, but it does allow Maria to grow visibly into adulthood when she falls in love with the Captain." Luker's understudy and later replacement was Laura Benanti, who plays Elsa in the live production tonight.

Carrie Underwood

Tonight we'll finally see what Underwood does with the role. Will she be great and force us to bite our tongues? Or will she perform to admittedly lowered expectations? Here's a video of her performing the title song.

Bonus: Judi Dench as Liesl

Okay, okay, this isn't a video that involves Maria, but it may be the best Sound of Music-related video ever. Here's Judi Dench in the pretty recent past singing Sixteen Going on Seventeen at a gala. All hail Judi, the best Liesl.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.