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Last Updated: Monday, 6 November 2006, 14:04 GMT
Von Trapp leaves Sound of Music
Simon Shepherd and Connie Fisher
Shepherd was due to star with talent show winner Connie Fisher
Actor Simon Shepherd has withdrawn from Andrew Lloyd Webber's West End production of The Sound Of Music just nine days before the opening night.

Shepherd was due to star as Captain Von Trapp in the 4m musical, but after two preview shows it was decided that his performance was "not working".

He left by mutual agreement, according to a spokesman for the production.

The actress hired to share the role of Maria with talent show winner Connie Fisher also pulled out in September.

Shepherd - best known for his role as Dr Will Preston in TV's Peak Practice - will be replaced by Alexander Hanson, who hopes to begin preview performances later this week.

"Simon wants to wish Alexander Hanson and everyone involved in the production the very best of luck," his spokesman said.

Hanson, who previously starred in a production of Lloyd Webber's Aspects of Love, will have his first rehearsal in the lead role today.

'Distasteful' contest

The Sound Of Music has been dogged by controversy since Lloyd Webber announced he would award the lead role to the winner of BBC talent show How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?.

Former director of the National Theatre, Sir Trevor Nunn, pulled out of the production before the television show began.

"It was not a route I wanted to follow," he told The Times, adding that he found the programme "distasteful".

Connie Fisher
Fisher won the role on How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?

Fisher, 23, won the contest, but faced claims that the competition had been rigged.

Lord Lloyd-Webber later told the BBC he was considering legal action over the accusations.

Further controversy followed when it was revealed that Fisher would not take to the stage every night.

But Lloyd Webber defended his leading lady, saying she would appear at the London Palladium six times a week.

He added it was his "duty" to protect her voice from damage.

"We certainly do not want her ending up like Julie Andrews who strained her voice when young and who can no longer sing."

But following Fisher's declaration that she wished to appear in every performance, the actress contracted to share the role of Maria, Emma Williams, "withdrew her services" from the production.

However, the bumpy ride to opening night has failed to put theatre-goers off The Sound Of Music.

According to the Daily Mail, more than 6 million of tickets have been sold for the musical, which opens at the London Palladium on 15 November.

New Maria 'expects bad reviews'
10 Oct 06 |  Entertainment
'Alternate' Maria quits musical
22 Sep 06 |  Entertainment
Lloyd Webber defends Maria plans
18 Sep 06 |  Entertainment
Connie wins Maria talent contest
17 Sep 06 |  Entertainment


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