Wanted: a new generation of Von Trapp singers

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The Independent Online

It was barely 6am as hundreds of children began to queue outside the London Palladium yesterday, exercising vocal chords with impromptu renditions of "Do-Re-Mi" and "Edelweiss" while they waited for the theatre's doors to open. In the world of musical auditions, this was the big one: the chance to play a Von Trapp on the West End stage.

In total, more than 4,000 girls and boys arrived to try out for Andrew Lloyd Webber's West End revival of The Sound of Music. Many in the queue - which wrapped its way around the building - had made sterling efforts to resemble the Von Trapp children of the original film, starring Julie Andrews. Hair was neatly tied in pigtails or plaits; angelic faces were freshly scrubbed.

But there were also those who were thinking "outside the box", hoping to offer a more "modern" Von Trapp family look.

The half-Nigerian Antonia Ogbebor, nine, desperately wanted to play the part of Brigitta von Trapp. She had been practising the audition song, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", for the best part of the previous day. Her mother, Joy Fairbrother, from Dagenham, had brought Antonia along as she felt her face represented a refreshing departure from the original cast.

"I did ask the agency who told us about the audition whether there was any point in Antonia turning up, and they said there was, as they hoped to get people 'outside the box'. I know the original musical follows the white, German stereotype, but that doesn't mean this one will," she said.

The musical revolves around Maria, a novice nun sent from her convent to be the governess of seven children belonging to a widowed naval commander, Baron Georg Ritter von Trapp. When Baron Von Trapp refuses to join the Nazi regime in wartime Austria, he takes his family - Liesl, 16, Friedrich, 14, Louisa, 13, Kurt, 10, Brigitta, nine, Marta, seven, and five-year-old Gretl - with Maria and flees to Switzerland.

Lanie, the mother of Sharon Harwood, nine, of mixed-Filipino origin, did not think her daughter had to match up to a certain physical type. "Sharon was in Miss Saigon at Woking Theatre last year. She will look a bit different for this audition but if she gets the part, she can always dye her hair," she said.

While many of the children had no previous experience, there were some theatre-school talents. Among the first in line was Lucy Brushett, 12, who had played the role of Cosette in Les Misérables for a year; while Richard Smith and Natasha Bernard, both 13, had met on the cast of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Meanwhile, Rosa O'Reilly, from Kingston upon Thames, said she felt she had a chance because she "looked much younger" than her 16 years. And despite never having been to an audition before, Lord Lloyd Webber picked her out on stage to sing a solo. She said afterwards: "I only just passed the measuring stick on the way in. I'm doing AS Levels this year, but I look much younger. It's always been my dream to appear in musical theatre, I love it."

Children who passed the first heat will return in a fortnight for the second of four auditions.

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