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The Sound of Brian

Ask even the most knowledgeable music theatre aficionado about Rogers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Brian and you're likely to be greeted by - at best - blank faces. "Surely you mean The Sound of Music" they will likely inquire. But no, The Sound of Brian it really existed and it was quite some show apparently. Sure, it might well have been eclipsed in the annals of musical theatre history by its better-known successor, but without it perhaps the world's favourite musical would never have reached the stage.

Signed copy of the commemorative souvenir photo-album released shortly before the show was pulled.

Signed copy of the commemorative souvenir photo-album released shortly before the show was pulled.

"Her's hoping" declares Professor Thrupiece to an unknown admirer. Hope was not enough. Copies of the album are rare, signed copies rarer. This one is kept in the Hornimint Hall of Fame, Toller Fratrum.

Given his prodigious talents and the many demands made on them*, it is remarkable that by 1957 the still 17 year old Professor Thrupiece had established a reputation as an up and coming musical theatre star. His debut (aged 6) in Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard (Hippodrome, Stanton St Gabriel) might have signalled a leaning towards classic drama and a place at RADA, but a breakthrough performance in Sturminster Newton Follies of 1954 (Alhambra, Sturminster Newton) pointed in other directions and signalled a startling change in the fortunes of the young entertainer. ("I may be wrong but I suspect this performance signals a startling change in the fortunes of this young entertainer", Michael Billious, Stinsford Revue)

* See The Thrupiece Papers, The Thrupiece Diaries [HERE] and Amanda J Threadbone (2002) Professor Thrupiece: Six Decades of Achievement, Threadbone Press)

It was largely as a result of that break through that Professor Thrupiece was invited to appear at his first Royal Variety Performance (London Palladium, 1955) and subsequently given the role of Ted Potts in the RSC's 1956 revival of Fernando and Alberto Mediantepiezza's A Devonian in Dorset (re-revived only last year as part of the Threadbone Primavera Festival [See trailer]).

So it was that, in 1956, Roger's and Hammerstein, looking to re-start their careers after the disappointment of Pipe Dream (1955) turned to the bankable talent of Professor Thrupiece. Meeting in Motcombe in January 1956, the Broadway veterans offered the Professor the leading role in a new musical which was to take the tried and tested formula of a family of talented singers escaping Nazi persecution disguised as nuns and Betterware salesmen but which aimed to stretch the concept by adding a few twists. The most significant of these was that the part of the ingenue nannie, ex-nun and escape-plan hatcher extraordinaire was to be assigned to a bass-baritone with a penchant for unicycling. Given that the character was supposed to be no more than 15 year's old, candidates for the part were few and far between. Professor Thrupiece - by then 16 and shortly to go into space [HERE] - but able to "carry off anything between 13 and 46" was the obvious front runner.

So what became of the project and why is it one of musical theatre's best kept secrets? The answer as always is a mixture of timing, bad luck and artistic ineptitude. To begin with things went well - the show was quickly written and Professor Thrupiece attended as many rehearsals (May-September 1957) as he could, fitting them in between visits to the USSR, the USA (NASA) and time in his Batcombe laboratory. But, as he freely admitted at the time, he could not give the show his full attention ("I can't give the show my full attention" [Thrupiece Diaries Vol XCVIII The Theatre Months, Threadbone Press]) and that was to prove its undoing. Then there was the radical nature of the show which required a cast of more than 80 (including 12 children, 30 nazi soldiers, 10 gestapo officers and a Goebbels lookalike ("not easy to come by in 1957 - they were mostly still in hiding", Hammerstein recalled). More problematical still, was the world ready for a stubble-chinned bass-baritone nun with a penchant for Uncle Joe's mint balls and a crafty walnut whip? History suggests not.

Three days before the production was due to open (Sutton Poyntz Grand Theatre), Christopher Plumb-Tomato broke his ankle on a copy of Macbeth and from then on "the writing was on the wall". "We decided on a rewrite and the rest, as they say, is stage musical history".

Poster for the proposed 1957 Sutton Poyntz Grand Theatre production.  "The show that never was"

Poster for the proposed 1957 Sutton Poyntz Grand Theatre production. "The show that never was". It has been suggested that one of the young children (second from right) was Ms Shelley-Lulette Sizemore - a ludicrous idea since she was not yet born.

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