By Paul Majendie
LONDON (Reuters) - Julie Andrews wannabes lined up on Friday to audition for a reality TV show with a new twist -- the winner gets the lead role in a new Andrew Lloyd Webber stage production of "The Sound of Music."
The hopefuls came in all shapes, sizes and ages, limbering up with impromptu choruses of "Edelweiss" before trying to convince the judges they would make the perfect young nun.
A BBC spokeswoman for the "How Do I Solve A Problem Like Maria?" show said more than 1,000 hopefuls had applied for the London weekend of auditions at the Wembley conference center.
They will be gradually whittled down to 10 finalists with television viewers voting for who should star in the London West End production due to open at the end of the year.
Lloyd Webber, composer of "Cats" and "Phantom of the Opera," has pledged not to grill would-be stars in the style of Simon Cowell, the acerbic judge on the "Pop Idol" talent shows popular on both sides of the Atlantic.
"It won't be everyone taking Simon Cowell pot-shots at artists," he has promised.
Lloyd Webber has said that, ideally, he wants a 20-year-old unknown actress to play the part made famous by Julie Andrews in the classic film about a nun sent to look after the seven Von Trapp children in Austria.
The name of Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson had originally been mooted as a possible choice for the role.
At Friday's auditions, some ever optimistic contestants were convinced that age was no barrier.
Clutching her Sound of Music lyrics, 35-year-old Rachel Cross said: "I think I could just push it at my age but I know my chances are slim." But she warned: "If the judges are nasty, there could be tears."
Another pushing the age barrier for the part was 32-year-old American Amy Royle who has just introduced her five-year-old son to the film. "Hopefully the maternal side will count in my favor at the audition."
At 20, Alison Langer fits the age bracket that Lloyd Webber is considering.
"It is something my mum always wanted to do and so do I. I was always singing 'The Hills Are Alive' when I was tiny."
Rachel Cross, 30, hopes showbusiness history will repeat itself. "This is such a great opportunity. That is why I got up at two o'clock in the morning to be first in the queue. And I am from Walton-on-Thames which is where Julie Andrews came from originally."
Oooh, I want to see thissss. How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?