Emma Williams, who was due to be an alternate Maria Von Trapp in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s upcoming production of The Sound of Music, has left the production just days before the start of rehearsals on Monday.

Connie Fisher, who was cast in the lead role last Saturday after winning the BBC One TV casting contest How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? (See News, 17 Sep 2006), is now due to perform all eight performances per week when the Rodgers and Hammerstein revival opens at the West End’s London Palladium on 14 November 2006 (previews from 4 November).

A statement released today by Lloyd Webber and his co-producer David Ian for Live Nation said: “Following the casting of trained actress Connie Fisher and discussions with the producers, Emma Williams, who it was anticipated would play the alternate Maria, has withdrawn her services from the production. Connie will now play all eight performances a week, unless indisposed in which case she would be covered in the usual manner by the understudy.

Emma, who first rose to prominence in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, looks forward to working with Andrew Lloyd Webber, David Ian, the Really Useful Group, Live Nation and (director) Jeremy Sams in the future and wishes Connie every success with the role.”

Williams was an 18-year-old newcomer herself when she was cast as Truly Scrumptious (pictured) opposite Michael Ball’s Caractacus Potts in the stage premiere of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang five years ago (See News, 15 Nov 2001). Since then, she has starred in Bat Boy, at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and in the West End, Sex, Chips and Rock 'n' Roll at Manchester’s Royal Exchange, Promises, Promises at Sheffield Crucible and Tomorrow Morning at the New End Theatre in Hampstead.

Prior to How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, 23-year-old Connie Fisher, from Pembrokeshire, Wales, had been working in telesales, although she trained at Mountview Theatre School and has previously auditioned for West End roles. After learning that she’d won what she’s often referred to as her dream role, Fisher said: "I feel on top of the world, thanks very much. I won't let you down. Every night will be an opening night. Thanks for making my dreams come true."

Commenting on Fisher’s win earlier this week, Lloyd Webber said: “Connie is iconic. She could be the next worldwide stage musical star. I am immensely proud that she has won against remarkable performers. Our Maria programme has redefined what can be achieved through reality television.”

No further casting has been officially announced for The Sound of Music, although Simon Shepherd is expected to play Captain Von Trapp, with Lesley Garrett as the Mother Abbess, Lauren Ward as the Baroness, Ian Gelder as Max, Sophie Bould as Liesl and Neil McDermott as Rolf (See The Goss, 25 Aug 2006).

- by Terri Paddock