‘Music’ gets dose of reality

Webber will cast 'Sound' lead through tube skein

LONDON — How do you cast a girl to play Maria? The answer, if you’re Andrew Lloyd Webber and you’re co-producing “The Sound of Music,” is to go the route of British reality TV.

The composer-impresario told Variety Nov. 30 that he and co-producer David Ian were in negotiations with the BBC to devise a talent show to find a comely new Maria for next fall’s West End revival of the beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein show.

“You’ve got to assume Maria is not exactly Mary Martin’s age,” says Lloyd Webber, referring to the original star, who was well into her 40s when “Sound of Music” opened on Broadway in 1959.

And though mention had initially been made of casting fortysomething “Woman in White” star Maria Friedman in the role, thoughts have moved on.

Lloyd Webber aims to capture “that frisson when you know the oldest daughter” among the Von Trapp children “is looking at a governess who’s a young girl only a couple years older than she is. That could make (the show) very, very exciting to a contemporary audience.”

Not least, presumably, because it ups the sexual ante. Indeed, says Lloyd Webber: ” ‘Sound of Music’ then becomes a musical about a girl who doesn’t know what’s happening. She’s told to leave the convent on a temporary basis and go and become an au pair for this captain who’s engaged to be married to someone twice her age.”

The reality-TV show would hope to grab the primetime small-screen audience, leading ideally to brisk biz for a stage revival “at the moment penciled in, and with a pretty black pencil,” says Lloyd Webber, for an October bow at the Palladium; no director has been signed. (Neither Trevor Nunn nor Steven Pimlott, both of whom were mooted at various times, have formally come onboard.)

And what of Scarlett Johansson, who was everyone’s favorite Maria for a while (and who can sing, says Lloyd Webber)?

“I talked to her a lot about it, but we couldn’t agree with her people financially.”

All of which leaves the door open for some as yet unsung person, between 18 and 25, to sing her heart out center stage late next year.

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