Have they actually solved the problem of Maria? That is the first question arising from this revival of The Sound of Music. And, whatever one thinks of the process of casting a lead role through a TV elimination game, the truth is that Connie Fisher ("the people's Maria") occupies the Palladium stage with absolute confidence and winning charm.
For a start, she is around the right age, 23, unlike the original Broadway Maria, Mary Martin, who at 46 was a touch mature to be cavorting in the cloisters. But Fisher also brings exactly the right qualities to the pesky postulant who first becomes governess to the von Trapp family and then her employer's wife.
With her engaging smile and rangy stride she reminds me faintly of a junior games mistress at my prep school. But, under the scrubbed innocence, there's also the right hint of sexiness. There's a moment, just before Maria's wedding to Captain von Trapp in the Nonnberg Abbey, when a see-through nightie is produced from her suitcase that suggests she is into slightly more than "bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens". Above all, Fisher has a clear, crystalline voice that relishes every note of Richard Rodgers's music and every syllable of Oscar Hammerstein's lyrics. Although Maria may be a novitiate, the highly talented Fisher is clearly no novice.
As for the musical itself, I found it surprisingly enjoyable. Although I can't recall ever seeing it before on stage, I was familiar with all the arguments against it. Kenneth Tynan never ceased pointing out that, in its account of a buoyant young governess hired by a despotic patriarch whom she finally marries, it was a straight replay of The King And I. Hammerstein's lyrics also occasionally remind one of George Jean Nathan's comment on JM Barrie: sugar without the diabetes. "How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?" asks the Mother Abbess of Maria; which seems a slightly exaggerated way of describing a habitual night wanderer who wears curlers under her wimple.
But, judged as the operetta which it actually is, the show has considerable integrity. It is easy to sneer at the incorporation of the anschluss into a show about nuns and children but, in fact, the Nazi occupation dominates the second half. There is a particularly telling moment when a glittering waltz at the Trapp household is revealed to contain rival political factions. And, although the argument between collaboration and resistance may not be profound, it is conducted with emotional dignity.
Captain von Trapp rejects his wealthy Austrian fiancee precisely because she is prepared to accommodate the Nazis; and it is a reminder of the opposition to any form of oppression that runs through all Rodgers and Hammerstein's work.
Jeremy Sams's production also rids the show of the camp it has acquired. over the years and that now manifests itself in Singalong-a-Sound-of-Music with its cross-dressing karaoke. Sams plays it straight starting from the moment when nuns process up the Palladium aisle during the Dixit Dominus to the final scene when the same space is occupied by stormtroopers.
I suspect the key to the show lies as much in the casting of Captain von Trapp as of Maria. In the film Christopher Plummer looked faintly detached from proceedings as if he were really looking forward to playing Richard III at Stratford. Alexander Hanson, replacing Simon Shepherd at short notice, admirably suggests a man of stiff-necked naval rectitude who slowly melts under the benign influence of Maria.
Lesley Garrett also endows the Mother Abbess with a genuine humanity and even manages to deliver Climb Every Mountain - my least favourite number - as a song of aspiration rather than a secular hymn. Robert Jones designs the show elegantly, making good use of a tilted disc to suggest the Austrian mountains on which we first see Connie Fisher's distant Maria lying delectably prostrate.
This is obviously not Pal Joey or Sweeney Todd. But, if you are prepared to shed your cynicism, The Sound of Music is a melodically abundant show that lauds charity, the act of communal music-making and resistance to political tyranny - which possibly explains why it has weathered the years so well.