Scarlett fever

LONDON — Those hills could well be scarlet — make that Scarlett — if composer-turned-impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber gets his wished-for Maria to headline the upcoming West End revival of “The Sound of Music,” now slated for spring 2006. Lloyd Webber apparently wants young screen star Scarlett Johansson to trill her way through a new production of the Rodgers & Hammerstein tuner.

Lloyd Webber met recently in London with Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization prexy Ted Chapin to discuss a timetable for the production, which looks as if it will be directed by Trevor Nunn, who has helmed a sensational “Oklahoma!” and a so-so “South Pacific,” both at the National.

There was some discussion early on that Maria Friedman might make a viable Maria, though more current thinking has been to opt for someone far younger (Johansson, 20, is less than half Friedman’s age) and starrier. Meanwhile, Johansson has let it be known of late how much she loves London, where she spent time last year shooting the latest Woody Allen film, “Match Point.”

On the other hand, let’s not get too ageist. It’s worth remembering that the tuner’s original leading lady, Mary Martin, was nearly 46 when “The Sound of Music” opened on Broadway in 1959.

Playing with musicals

One classic tuner now almost upon us is “Guys and Dolls,” which starts previews May 19 at the Piccadilly in advance of a June 1 bow. So how will director Michael Grandage approach a show with a unique status in Britain following not one but two separate runs of Richard Eyre‘s hugely acclaimed revival (in 1982 and then in 1996)?

Here’s the poop, straight from the mouth of the show’s Miss Adelaide, Tony winner Jane Krakowski, making her West End debut: “It’s what Michael does at the Donmar and especially what he does with musicals, and what I love about working with directors of plays when they take on musicals — that they tend to be directed as a play with music instead of as a musical.

“We’re spending a lot of time and detail on characters and on the scene work, and then the songs become an extension of the scenes, which to me is how good musicals should be done. But sometimes they’re not gone about that way: Directors make pictures or they do numbers and then go back and set up the numbers, whereas we’re doing it much more like a play with music.”

As for those wondering what co-producer Howard Panter means when he talks of “a savvier, sexier, much more ‘now’ thing” with the Grandage “Guys and Dolls,” consider this: Miss Adelaide, Krakowski reminds us, “works at a place called the Hot Box, and it will not be lost on our audience what type of joint that is.”

Dynamic debut

You’ve got one week left to check out the sort of debut play that brings with it not just an exciting new voice but a production so pitch-perfect that one is almost fearful of revisiting the play in any other context. On the other hand, I can’t imagine West London’s 81-seat Bush Theater will be the final stop for actress-turned-writer Amelia Bullmore‘s “Mammals,” which turns the dysfunctional family play on a consistently intriguing axis. (Play’s extended run ends May 14.)

In a sense, its most obvious talking point — the casting of grown-up actresses Helena Lymbery and Jane Hazlegrove to play two boisterous sisters, ages 4 and 6 — is in some ways the least interesting thing about the play.

Far more tantalizing is the gift for prismatic mood swings shown by Bullmore and director Anna Mackmin, in a story whose multiple confessions and infidelities always seem hurtfully (and occasionally comically) grounded in truth.

The play’s theme, one could argue, is what happens in relationships, as Daniel Ryan‘s incipiently adulterous husband puts it, “once the surprises have run out.” And though there’s no easy answer to that dilemma, how bracing to find a play that itself possesses an unerring capacity for surprise.