ITV to broadcast The Sound of Music live on Christmas Day

The Sound Of Music

Move breaks with traditional approach over festive period, and marks first time a musical has been shown live on national television

ITV will broadcast a live performance of The Sound of Music on Christmas Day in a move that breaks with a traditional approach to the festive schedules, and will be the first time a musical has been broadcast live on national television.

The channel will air a two-and-a-half-hour dramatisation of the much-loved 1965 Rogers and Hammerstein film, which starred Julie Andrews as the nun who becomes a governess in 1938 pre-war Austria. The ITV version will be performed by a cast that includes Julian Ovendon as Captain von Trapp, Kara Tointon as Maria, and Alexander Armstrong as Max Detwieler. The project is to be directed by Coky Giedroyc, who is known for Oliver Twist and Wuthering Heights, while musical direction will come from Tony-award winning Martin Koch.

Ben Preston, editor of the Radio Times, said that a live broadcast of The Sound of Music made a welcome addition to the Christmas schedules, often criticised for showing too many repeats. “It gets three cheers from me. Finally, someone innovating at Christmas,” said Preston.

“It’s really good to see ITV innovating, because Christmas is often left to the BBC – so it’s great to see something new in the mix alongside the perennial favourites of Downton Abbey, EastEnders and Doctor Who. My only hope is that they will have subtitles so you can sing along at home with the tunes.”

In September, ITV celebrated its 60th anniversary with a live episode of Coronation Street, while EastEnders marked its 30th birthday with an entire week of live broadcasts – which brought with them the jeopardy that ensures viewers tune in, and a live blooper, when actor Jo Joyner mistakenly called on-screen husband Ian Beale by his real name, Adam.

But while special live episodes of soap operas are well-established televisual treats, a live musical is an altogether more surprising addition to the schedules. ITV’s decision to invest in live theatre during the Christmas period may reflect a growing appetite for watching plays on the big screen, particularly for audiences outside London with less access to West End productions.

Preston said he had been surprised to find that, following BBC director general Tony Hall’s recent pledge to bring more theatre to the BBC, there was still a lack of live performance on television, despite an obviously growing audience. “So far that hasn’t really happened,” said Preston. “But if you go outside London, there is a real growing audience for it. Broadcasting live theatre is a way of taking arts out to the people and a gloriously democratic use of new technology that has found an audience. If television is now thinking about how it surfs that new wave, then good on it.”

The Sound of Music made its theatre debut on Broadway in 1959 and the 1965 film adaptation, the last musical written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, won five Academy awards.

It was most recently revived on the West End stage in 2006 by Andrew Lloyd-Webber, who cast the lead role through BBC talent show How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?.

ITV’s director of entertainment and comedy, Elaine Bedell, conceded that the project was an ambitious one for the channel. “This is the first time in the UK that this type of project has been attempted – a musical drama both performed and broadcast live – but big ambitious live television events is what ITV does well,” she said. “We’ve assembled some of the very best talent both in front of and behind the camera, and I can’t wait to see it all come together.”

Powered by article was written by Hannah Ellis-Petersen, for The Guardian on Friday 23rd October 2015 00.01 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010