Half a crown a song

WHEN The Sound of Music first opened in New York on November 16, 1959 to mostly favourable reviews no one could have realised that a phenomenon had been created. The show ran on Broadway for 1,443 performances and opened in London on May 18, 1961. It was to run in the West End for 2,385 performances.

A  West End revival in 1981 with Petula Clarke, then aged 49, saw the show receive rave reviews as it broke theatre records for the most advanced sales and highest attendance figure for a single week.

The 1965 film version starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer was another winner and, adjusted for inflation, is the third highest grossing film of all time behind Gone with the Wind and Star Wars.

In 1998 a Broadway revival was another success and in 2006 the show was back for the third time in the West End thanks to Andrew Lloyd Webber  . . . and the BBC.

When attempts to sign Scarlett Johansson as Maria failed the star part was selected by a TV talent show, How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? , and the problem was solved by winner Connie Fisher who is back in the touring version of the hit show which will be keeping the hills of Hurst Street alive with music at Birmingham Hippodrome for the next six weeks.

The show represented the end of an era. It was the last musical of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Oscar Hammerstein II died of cancer in August 1960 aged 65.


He was the lyricist and playwright and had more than 800 songs to his credit.  Hammerstein wrote with a number of composers including Jerome Kern and Sigmund Romberg, but he is best known for his collaboration with Richard Rodgers which started with Oklahoma in 1943.

It may have only been half a century ago that The Sound of Music opened in London but it was a different world. For a start the Lord Chamberlain's office was still censoring and licensing every production - not that trials and tribulations of the Von Trapps was ever likely to frighten the horses or have maiden aunts reaching for the smelling salts to ward of fan attack of the vapours.

The show still had to comply though and publish regulations relating to exit doors, no chairs in  gangways or on stairs and no standing all listed in the programme.

The 1961 programme is also interesting to see that sponsorship and product placement are nothing new. The programme contains a whole list of credits from Floral Décor by R. Windham Ltd to Shoes by Gamba Ltd and Stockings by Kayser Bondor Ltd. And for those wondering as they puffed away on their Park Drive and Woodbines in the stalls, the cigarettes on stage were supplied by Olivier while the lighters and cigarette case came from Astley's. We even had wardrobe care by  . . . Lux!

For the punter with his state of the art audio system – a Dansette autochanger – there was a choice of no less than six LPs advertised in stereo and mono versions with the London cast from HMV, the Broadway Cast from Philips or six top stars, including Eve Boswell and Ken Dodd, with six top songs from the show on a Decca EP for 10s 11½(almost 55p)

Pye had Petula Clark, Joan Regan, Edmond Hockridge and Dickie Valentine on an EP or 12s 3 ½d  (62p) or for a guinea, 21/-, (£1.05p) you could have the full score played by The Stratford Strings or if you were looking budge Decca had an Ace of Clubs version which included Joyce Blair and Roy Castle while for sing it yourselfers there was always the sheet music at half a crown a song,(12.5p) three and a tanner (17.5p)  for a piano selection or 17/6 (87.5) for the full score.

Roger Clarke

How they solved the problem of Maria  . . . in 1961 

The Sound of Music starring Connie Fisher runs at Birmingham Hippodrome from July 13 to August 21.

Click on a page below to see the  contents of the 1961 programme





We would like to thank the very first British Maria, Jean Bayless, for loaning her programme. 

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