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Last Updated: Monday, 3 March 2008, 09:49 GMT
So long, farewell Hollyoaks
By Liam Allen
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

When Summer Strallen walks onto the London Palladium stage on Monday night, she will become the latest actor to take the lead in an Andrew Lloyd Webber show after being introduced to viewers by a TV programme.

Maria (Summer Strallen) and Captain Von Trapp (Simon Burke)
Summer Strallen already has a wealth of experience in musicals

She follows her Sound of Music predecessor, Connie Fisher, and Joseph star Lee Mead in following that route.

But while Fisher and Mead won their lead roles in TV talent shows, Strallen became familiar to TV viewers through starring in Channel 4 teen soap Hollyoaks.

"It's such a new thing and another great way that Andrew has thought of to bring a new audience to the theatre," says 23-year-old Strallen as she relaxes in her dressing room before a preview performance of The Sound of Music.

Soap secret

Strallen made her Hollyoaks debut in October, and viewers watched unaware as her character, Summer Shaw, followed her dream of becoming a star of the stage.

Summer Strallen
Strallen is the niece of performer Bonnie Langford

Strallen, who auditioned for Lord Lloyd-Webber in July, had to keep the plan a secret from friends and Hollyoaks co-stars alike.

The soap storyline culminated in the impresario offering Summer's character the part.

"I believe that people have a right to see what they're going to get because it's so expensive to go to the theatre now and not everyone can afford it," she says.

"The whole concept of having me out there for people to see and to get to know is great because they get to see a little snippet of what they can see in the theatre."

One of the aims of the experiment, to introduce a younger audience to the theatre, has already been borne out by the amount of young people watching previews of the show, she says.

Award nomination

Unlike Fisher, who worked in a call centre before taking part in the How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? TV show, Strallen already has a wealth of experience in musicals.

She's just really proud like any other aunt would be
Strallen on Bonnie Langford

Her performance as Janet van der Graaf in The Drowsy Chaperone last year earned her a Laurence Olivier Award nomination for best actress in a musical, while she also appeared alongside Star Wars star Ewan McGregor in Guys and Dolls.

Both her parents worked in musicals and her eldest sister Scarlet recently played Mary Poppins in the West End production of the same name.

STRALLEN'S STAGE HIGHLIGHTS
The Drowsy Chaperone (Olivier nomination)
Guys and Dolls (with Ewan McGregor)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Cats
Scrooge

And her aunt is musicals queen Bonnie Langford.

"She's just really proud like any other aunt would be," she says of her exuberant relative.

No doubt the evergreen Langford, who recently appeared as Roxie Hart in Chicago, has offered advice to her niece about the pressure she faces.

Strallen says she is well aware of how difficult Connie Fisher found the rigours of playing Maria.

Her predecessor missed two weeks of shows after straining her vocal chords, and lost weight because of the demands of the role.

"As Connie has said - it does kill you this show," she says.

Connie Fisher
Connie Fisher lost weight performing in The Sound of Music

Against that background, Strallen is under no illusions that her run as Maria represents the biggest challenge of her career so far.

"It's a mammoth role and the biggest role I've yet to do because I have the added pressure of being the name above the title or just below the title.

"I have the last bow."

The Sound of Music, starring Summer Strallen, opens at the London Palladium on Monday night.



SEE ALSO
Webber plants Hollyoaks actress
01 Feb 08 |  Entertainment
Lloyd Webber lands TV acting role
20 Dec 07 |  Entertainment
Lloyd Webber's Saturday night fever
24 May 07 |  Entertainment
Lloyd Webber fortune keeps rising
27 Apr 07 |  Entertainment
Connie wins Maria talent contest
17 Sep 06 |  Entertainment

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