"How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?," which premieres on BBC America Sunday night, may have the most unwieldy if self-explanatory title in television history. But in a landscape that lately seems dominated by audition-heavy musical competitions, it is refreshing in its simplicity.
Three years ago, Andrew Lloyd Webber (inevitably prefaced by "legendary composer") wanted to stage "The Sound of Music," featuring a Maria who was younger and more mischievous than past incarnations. He also wanted, as reality TV luck would have it, an unknown. (You know these legendary composers and their whims.) So the call went out across the land for all young girls who ever dreamed of being Julie Andrews to come and give a panel of judges -- Lloyd Webber, theater producer David Ian, "Torchwood's" John Barrowman and vocal coach Zoe Tyler -- everything they've got.
For American audiences, the symphony of regional accents alone makes it worth watching.
Following on the heels of "Any Dream Will Do," in which Lloyd Webber sought a lead for "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," "Maria" will make you laugh a bit, cry a bit and, of course, burst into snatches of familiar song.
For fans of "The Sound of Music," or musical theater in general, "Maria" is required viewing. (One can easily imagine parties springing up, similar to the costumed celebration that occurs every year at the Hollywood Bowl.) Beyond the pleasure of watching a bevy of fresh-faced young women "give it a go" and seeing the now fairly familiar range of judges' reactions ("You're not Maria" is the show's auf Wiedersehen), the larger and more interesting theme of what makes a stage star quickly emerges.