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Andrew Lloyd Webber to Search for The Sound of Music Star on UK TV

The UK press is reporting this morning that Andrew Lloyd Webber is partnering up with the BBC for a talent show to search for an unknown to star as Maria in The Sound of Music. The show, which is said to have a working title of "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" is said to offer a series of auditions, with the winner to star in the musical when it opens in the West End in the Fall of 2006. Webber is said to have been searching for a star unsuccessfully for 4 years.

When it was released in 1965, The Sound of Music surpassed Gone with the Wind as having the highest-grossing domestic box office of all time (it is now in third place). While the original Broadway production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic was a big hit at 1,443 performances, it is the film version that has cemented the musical as an enduring family classic. It was one of the first movies to be released on video (in 1979), and at 300 weeks, The Sound of Music still holds a Billboard chart longevity record.

The Sound of Music is based on the real-life story of the Trapp Family Singers. Julie Andrews replaced Mary Martin as Maria in the film version, with Christopher Plummer taking on the role of Captain Von Trapp; the film also featured Richard Haydn, Peggy Wood, Eleanor Parker and Charmian Carr. Ernest Lehman's (North by Northwest, Sweet Smell of Success) screenplay was adapted from the book of Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse, and Robert Wise (West Side Story, editor of Citizen Kane) directed. Set in the green mountains of Austria, the musical was the first to be filmed heavily on location. Lehman also devised a number of changes from stage to screen, including Maria's singing of "My Favorite Things" instead of the Mother Abbess.

While the movie acheived worldwide popularity, some critics were less than thrilled with the film's sentimentality. Pauline Kael called it "the sugar-coated lie that people seem to want to eat," while even cast members and creators disparaged it (Plummer referred to the musical as The Sound of Mucus). Yet in an article in The New York Times, Todd S. Purdum writes that "a compelling case can be made for The Sound of Music, as the last picture show of its kind, a triumph of craftsmanship and the apogee of the studio system that produced the kind of entertainment that dominated mid-20th-century mass culture."

Ted Chapin, the president of the Rodgers and Hammerstein organization, was also positive on the film's appeal: "In retrospect, it's a very good story, with very good tunes. The score doesn't really sound like a score written by 60-year-old men. There's a kind of youthfulness and honesty to the songs, about how to learn music, but also how to break down barriers. It doesn't sound like someone's trying to phony something up."

Along with Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music is Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that is most produced around the world. The first major Austrian production of the show is currently playing to wide popular acclaim (but mixed reviews) at Vienna's Volksope.

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