MOST of us who know The Sound of Music are likely to associate its lead character Maria with the iconic actress and singer Julie Andrews. For anyone trying to fill her shoes, they'd best be sporting some pretty large feet.
Currently, this mammoth task has fallen into the lap of 26-year-old Bethany Dickson, who is starring in the 2006 London Palladium version of the award-winning musical at the Marina Bay Sands Grand Theatre from now till Aug 10.
"I've always loved Julie Andrews, so this is a dream come true," says the soft-spoken thespian who hails from South Africa. "It was very stressful to be playing this role in the beginning, yes. But I'm very comfortable in it now. I think I just got used to it naturally with time."
Set in Austria, against the backdrop of the Nazi invasion in 1938, the story begins with the 19-year-old protagonist, Maria Rainer, who lives in an abbey and is one day sent to be a governess for the Von Trapp family. There, she wins the hearts of the seven Von Trapp children and their stern navy-trained father, Captain Von Trapp, through her love for music.
Says resident director Anton Luitingh: "It's a musical that's not just about fluffy cotton wool and Maria doing turns on a mountain, but an in-depth story with so many levels of humanity and challenges that we can relate to as human beings."
He adds: "I honestly think that when you combine the stories and the human aspect with these songs, that's what has made this musical written in 1959 still popular in 2014."
The Sound of Music first opened on Broadway in November 1959, with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. It went on to win six Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
But what most people would be familiar with is the 1965 film version, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, which took home five Oscars including Best Picture.
According to Luitingh, fans of the movie will still be able to enjoy his version of the musical without feeling like they were missing out on anything.
"There are very few things in the show that will make people go 'Oh, that is not like the movie' and prefer the way they do it in the movie. They're almost an exact replica of each other, give or take a couple of scenes or moments or songs," he reassures.
One unique element of his staging, however, is that six out of the seven Von Trapp children will be played by kids who auditioned in Singapore. A total of 18 children were selected, and will take turns to play the roles of Louisa, Brigitta, Marta, Gretl, Friedrich and Kurt.
"The stars of the show are the children - people relate through them. That's where the magic lies. So each new city that we do this production in brings about a new family of children, adding something fresh to the company every time," explains Luitingh.
And ultimately, what he hopes for the show is that he can help introduce it to a new generation of audiences.
"What I hope to see is parents and grandparents who love the show bringing their young loved ones who have never seen it, to show them what they fell in love with, and share a piece of that with their own children and grandchildren," he explains.
'The Sound of Music' runs till Aug 10 at the Grand Theatre at Marina Bay Sands, at various timings. Tickets cost from S$65 to S$195.
Log on to www.sistic.com.sg for more information or to buy tickets