|Jim Forsha ’79 Reflects on His Role in NBC’s Production of “The Sound of Music”
Jim Forsha ’79 was only nine years old when he first sat in the audience of a “Sound of Music” production. Years later, the LVC graduate turned actor heard news that a televised, live performance of his “favorite movie and show of all time” was slated to air on Thursday, Dec. 5 on NBC.
“I etched the date into my mind, looked up the day of the week, and figured, ‘I’ve got to make sure I’ll be available and planted in front of the television set,’” he recalled.
Forsha did, in fact, end up as a captivated audience member on Dec. 5, but instead of being seated in his own home watching the production unfold with the rest of America, he found himself in Bethpage, N.Y. on the set itself. Serving as an extra in the audience during the scene where the Von Trapp family performs at the Salzburg Festival, Forsha had the chance to take in the marvels of the show in a closer and more personal manner that he ever could have imagined.
Only a few weeks earlier, after hearing word that the musical was in the making, Forsha received a notification from a casting network that casting agents were looking for background workers for “The Sound of Music.” At the time, he thought it was for a remake of the movie, submitted an application and “basically forgot about it.”
Weeks later, Forsha was recruited as one of 17 men and 3 women to work as extras on the set of the NBC production. Selection guidelines were quite specific, and in addition to his existing love for the storyline, Forsha fit the part visually, too. “It seems we were chosen because of our somewhat ‘Austrian look,’ and, and for the men, for our lack of height,” he said. Stephen Moyer, the actor who played Captain Von Trapp, is a mere 5-foot-9-inches tall, so casting agents did not want anyone to overshadow him.
On Nov. 27, Forsha and the other background actors finally got the call to make their way to the studios for four days. Upon arrival, he was immediately awestruck by the massive scope of the $9 million production’s space and studios, which he described as “gorgeous” and “nearly flawless,” noting that despite his short-term involvement, the project had been in the works for nearly a year. As many as 30 hair and makeup vanities, along with huge monitors that were screening ongoing rehearsals, filled the space that had once been used to build military aircraft, and dozens upon dozens of trailers littered the massive parking lots.
The first order of business was a haircut—one that took about 50 minutes—after which Forsha was shuttled off to the wardrobe department where “every conceivable measurement was taken,” including unusual specifications such as the girth of his ankle, and the size of a clenched first.
In the two days that followed, Forsha and the other extras spent time being a part of rehearsals, which, on their part, consisted of getting into costumes and then into their seats two scenes prior to the one in which they would appear.
Through his involvement, in addition to being blown away by one of the most beautiful sets he had ever seen, Forsha marveled at the level of talent and the demeanor some of the production’s stars exhibited.
He said that Carrie Underwood, who played leading lady Maria Von Trapp, said hello to him twice in passing, and gained the admiration of all of those with whom she worked.
“Though ‘theater folk’ are notoriously positive, upbeat, and effusive, performers themselves are just as notoriously snarky, that is, they seem quick to criticize and seem often too competitive and jealous. With that in mind, it is even more impressive that I heard not one criticism of Carrie Underwood from any of those involved in the production during my entire time there,” he said.
Forsha, who self identifies as a die-hard Julie Andrews fan, was equally impressed, noting that “this little girl—she is so petite in person—was carrying nearly all of the weight of something more scrutinized than just about anything we’ve seen in recent memory.”
“Was I impressed with her acting? She’s not an actress; never claimed to be. The singing, though, oh my goodness, how can that voice come out of such a delicate thing?” he added.
The production itself relied on careful coordination and logistical genius. At some points, as many as eight cameras were in use, and minute details, such as finding a way to make pools behind the terrace appear to be shimmering, required creative solutions. (A fan blowing water in pans over mirror pieces that were lit with a spotlight accomplished this.)
According to Forsha, a live television performance comparable to this had not been attempted since the late 1950s, and doing so “is infinitely more difficult with all of today’s technologies.” The performance was evidently one to remember, as over 18 million viewers tuned in, exceeding expectations and becoming one of the network’s most-watched entertainment programs in almost seven years.
For Forsha, it was certainly an opportunity of a lifetime, too. Despite some long days, he describes the experience as “overwhelmingly positive” and “all-in-all good fun.”