From Austrian hills alive with the "Sound of Music" to a New England cottage (by way of a television soundstage) — and across a span of 36 years — Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer will be reunited Sunday night in a live production of "On Golden Pond" on CBS. (It will be seen live in the Eastern and Central time zones; in Utah, it will air on tape-delay at 8 p.m. on Ch. 2.

It's the first time the two have worked together since they co-starred as Maria and Baron von Trapp, but for the actors themselves, it's just the latest chapter in a long relationship.

"We've been friends since 'The Sound of Music,' " Andrews said in a teleconference with TV critics. "Other projects have not come across our path. I don't think we've actively looked, although I don't think, since we're friends, we would've refused any. . . . But I'm awfully glad this one's come about."

"Me too," Plummer said. "It will show us totally different from the famous film that we will not mention."

But, why not?

"Oh, come on," he said with a laugh. "Because everybody else has."

Certainly, part of the thinking for this production of "On Golden Pond" was the reuniting of Andrews and Plummer for the legions of adoring "Sound of Music" fans.

"I don't think we fool ourselves," Andrews said. "We know that there's going to be a certain nostalgia, but I think once they get tuned in, the piece will take over by itself."

"I think that they'll see us in a different light immediately," Plummer said.

And fans of the Oscar-winning 1981 movie, which starred Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda, will be in for a few surprises as well. This "On Golden Pond" goes back to the original stage script, which playwright Ernest Thompson (who's directing) has adapted for Andrews, Plummer and TV.

"It's a rare opportunity for a writer to go back to something he wrote 23 years ago, because in that time, the world has changed and I've changed, both as a man and as a writer," Thompson said. "To have an opportunity to re-address some of the themes of the play — to make them perhaps more current and to luxuriate in having two very different actors playing these parts, it's like a dream for me."

Not that he's changed his play a great deal; it's still about an older couple in the twilight of their long life together, their relationship with their daughter (Glenne Headley), her boyfriend (Sam Robards) and his 14-year-old son (Will Rothhaar). But it does play out somewhat differently.

"Think of how society has changed, because our view of aging is very different than it was in the late '70s, when I wrote this play," Thompson said. "A man 80 and a woman in her late 60s can have a whole different vibrancy and attitude toward life and toward aging than even that short time ago. And look at our stars — they are very attractive, vibrant, sensual people, and I've tried to really play into that. It's an entirely different 'On Golden Pond,' if you think that these two characters are truly in love and, frankly, still hot for each other."

Last year, Plummer was adamant that he wasn't interested in doing "On Golden Pond" with Andrews — because, he said, of the "rather sentimental thing that the movie produced."

"And I thought, 'Oh, no. Julie and I in a really sentimental piece — that wouldn't work,' " he said, adding that he hadn't read the play's script. "The play is absolutely wonderful. It's cynical, biting, funny, feisty, devastating, sad at times, but always tough and totally different from the screen version. So I said, 'What a wonderful way to rejoin Julie! I'll do it.'

"And they also paid us very nicely, too, I might add."

This isn't the first time either Plummer or Andrews has done live television — he performed in many such productions back in the '50s; her credits include "Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella" in 1957.

"I know for sure that there's an extra adrenaline that is akin to the theater," Plummer said. "And I think that will add a great deal to this play."

"It's almost a theater experience, except that in this case, the theater is your living room," Andrews said.

Plummer called the rehearsals — which began almost a month ago — "long and daunting." Andrews agreed, adding, "And also, it's going to be like, hopefully, a wonderful ballet because there's going to be eight or nine cameras."

Eight, actually, operated by a crew that includes veterans of both the live episode of "ER" and last year's live presentation of "Fail Safe," using state-of-the-art technology. But the show still hinges on the performances of Andrews and Plummer.

"I have to add that I'm deeply grateful that Chris is an old chum, and that I had known him and worked with him before, because it made the beginning process so much easier (than) if either of us had had to get to know a totally new friend," Andrews said.

"The fact that these two have such a long and enduring relationship is exactly what the play is about," said executive-producer Craig Anderson, who produced and directed the original play. "It's about a very successful marriage and how it stays together. And the fact that they know each other and are old friends, it's just very, very convincing and wonderful to watch on stage."

"That's what's going to be really wonderful about this production, and I think it's going to knock people's socks off, is that you will see two performances that have never been seen before, and a take on this material that we have never seen before," said Thompson.


E-MAIL: pierce@desnews.com