Andrew Lloyd Webber’s much-anticipated new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music has brought forward its opening date at the West End’s London Palladium (See News, 5 May 2006). The production went on sale to group bookers last week, with a schedule that had it opening on 5 December 2006 (previews from 24 November), initially booking until 14 April 2007. It will now open on 14 November (previews from 4 November). Public sales open on 11 June.

Though no casting has yet been announced, the full creative team for Jeremy Sams’ production has now been confirmed: design will be by Robert Jones, choreography by Arlene Phillips, sound by Mick Potter, lighting by Mark Henderson and musical supervision by Simon Lee.

The Sound of Music was one of the best-known musicals by Rodgers and Hammerstein, whose other collaborations included The King and I, Oklahoma and South Pacific. Based on the 1949 book The Von Trapp Family Singers, written by Maria Von Trapp about her experiences as a trainee nun who falls in love with a widowed naval captain and his children in pre-war Austria, The Sound of Music opened in 1959 on Broadway, where it ran for 1,443 performances and won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It premiered in London in 1961.

The story and its score - including "My Favourite Things", "Do-Re-Mi", " Sixteen Going On Seventeen", "Climb Ev'ry Mountain", "Edelweiss", "So Long, Farewell" and the title song - was immortalised for generations of filmgoers by the 1965 Oscar-winning Hollywood version starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. The stage show was revived in London in 1981 and on Broadway in 1998 while, in recent years, a sing-a-long version of the film has become a cult hit in London and on tour in the UK.

A nationwide search is now underway to find an as-yet undiscovered star to play the lead of nun-turned-nanny Maria, via a BBC One TV reality casting programme, hosted by Graham Norton and entitled How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?. Successful contestants from this month’s early rounds of auditions will undergo training and review with an expert panel – including Lloyd Webber – and will then be voted on by the public when the Saturday night programme is broadcast later this year.

The earlier opening date for The Sound of Music means that the production will now be eligible for this next year’s Theatregoers’ Choice Awards, voted for by the public, for which the judging year runs from 1 December 2005 to 30 November 2006. Amongst the many other productions which will be competing in the musical categories in a jam-packed year will be Broadway imports Wicked, Spamalot and Avenue Q as well as another Lloyd Webber production, Michael Grandage’s revival of Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 1978 classic Evita.

Currently at the Palladium, high-tech song-and-dance spectacular Sinatra, featuring never-before-seen footage of Ol’ Blue Eyes projected onto 24-foot screens, is booking until 7 October 2006. The Sound of Music is presented by David Ian, the Really Useful Group and Live Nation.

- by Terri Paddock