All eyes have been on the leading lady of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s upcoming production of The Sound of Music, aka Connie Fisher who won the role after triumphing in BBC’s reality TV talent contest How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, but attention turns today on the show’s leading man, Simon Shepherd (pictured with Shepherd at a press launch last month) - now the former leading man.

After just two public performances (previews started on Friday night, 3 November 2006, with no matinee on Saturday) and just nine days before opening night, Shepherd has withdrawn from the production at the London Palladium. The actor is best known as the star of five series of TV’s Peak Practice. His stage career includes the London productions of Art, Bent and The Secret Rapture.

According to a statement issued this morning: “Following the first two previews of The Sound of Music at the London Palladium on Friday 3 and Saturday 4 November, Simon Shepherd, director Jeremy Sams and producers Andrew Lloyd Webber and David Ian agreed that his performance as Captain Von Trapp was not working within the production and therefore he has withdrawn from the show.”

Shepherd was due to make his musical debut in the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic. The role of Captain Von Trapp, the Austrian officer and father of seven children who falls in love with nun-turned-nanny Maria, was played in the Oscar-winning 1965 film by Christopher Plummer.

The part will now be taken by Alexander Hanson, who was involved in workshops for The Sound of Music at the beginning of the year. Hanson’s previous musicals include We Will Rock You, Enter the Guardsman, Candide and Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard and Aspects of Love. His other credits include Tonight at 8.30 this summer at Chichester, Talking to Terrorists, The Villain’s Opera, Troilus and Cressida and The Merchant of Venice and TV’s The Fugitives and Auf Wiedersehn Pet.

Hanson will take over as soon as possible this week. Until he’s ready to perform, Captain Von Trapp will be played by understudy Christopher Dickins. Opening night will go ahead, as planned, on Wednesday 15 November 2006.

The Sound of Music also stars soprano Lesley Garrett as the Mother Abbess, Lauren Ward as the Baroness, Ian Gelder as Max, Sophie Bould as Liesl and Neil McDermott as Rolf, as well as three teams of children. Others in the cast are: Christopher Blades, Anthony Cable, Ian Caddick, Vivien Care, Tanya Caridia, Christopher Connah, Kate Coysten, Deborah Crowe, Christopher Dickens, Katie Fabel, Susie Fenwick, John Griffiths, Amanda Hall, Paul Kemble, Emma Lindars, Ian Male, Claire Massie, Nicholas Maude, Gavin Mitford, Jo Napthine, Verity Quade, Katie Ray, Simon Schofield, Nicola Sloane, Alan Vicary, Helen Walsh, Elen Mon Wayne, Jane Webster, Kerry Winter and Vanessa Woodfine.

The Sound of Music premiered on Broadway in 1959, when it won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The show first opened in London in 1961 and its last London revival was in 1981, both productions having record-breaking runs. The 1965 Hollywood film, which starred Julie Andrews and Plummer, won five Oscars, including Best Picture.

The London revival is directed by Jeremy Sams and designed by Robert Jones, with choreography by Arlene Phillips, sound by Mick Potter, lighting by Mark Henderson and musical supervision by Simon Lee. It’s presented by Andrew Lloyd Webber and David Ian, the Really Useful Group and Live Nation.

- by Terri Paddock