Celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music with a look at all the performers who've followed in Julie Andrews's footsteps

By Drew Mackie
Updated March 06, 2015 07:25 AM

How do you solve a problem like Maria? For the producers of The Sound of Music, which hit theaters fifty years ago this week, the solution turned out to be Julie Andrews.

Other actresses were considered for the part of the free-spirited nanny whose effervescence overcomes not only the grumpiness of Captain von Trapp but also the tyranny of the Nazis.

Among those rumored to have been in the running for the role were Grace Kelly, Doris Day, Audrey Hepburn and Anne Bancroft. But in the end, even the producers who wanted a bigger, more marquee-friendly name agreed that Maria should be played by Andrews. (At the time, her other role as a singing nanny, Mary Poppins, hadn’t yet proven a success. She’d eventually win the Best Actress Oscar for it.)

Ever since, the role of Maria Rainer has been linked with Andrews – but she’s not the only one to sing about the hills being alive with the sound of music. Lady Gaga’s winning Oscar performance of a Sound of Music medley made believers of even the most loyal Andrews fans.

And come on – who would have thought we’d ever hear Julie Andrews speak the words, “Thank you, Lady Gaga?”

In light of the film’s golden anniversary, we’re looking back at some of the other performers who have climbed every mountain, listed off their favorite things, and reminded us that when you know the notes to sing, you can sing most anything.

Mary Martin

Seven years before Andrews played Maria onscreen, stage veteran Mary Martin was the first one to sing the part. Martin won a Tony for best actress for her take on Maria, and it’s interesting to think about Andrews initially trying to measure up to the inaugural performance of a Broadway legend.

Patti Page

In order to promote their new show, Rodgers and Hammerstein asked the “Tennessee Waltz” singer to record a version of The Sound of Music‘s title song. She did so on Nov. 16, 1959, effectively becoming the first person to ever record a song from the show. Page premiered the song on her Oldsmobile-sponsored variety show to drum up interest in the new play.

Florence Henderson

Seen here performing the play’s title song at the 1971 Tony Awards, Florence Henderson shows off pipes that Mrs. Brady didn’t get enough opportunity to use. Henderson first played the role back in 1961, during the play’s national tour.

Shirley Jones

Henderson wasn’t the only sitcom mom to show off her angelic voice as Maria. Shirley Jones, mother to The Partridge Family, played the role in both 1966 and 1977. What better training could there be for leading a troop of child singers?

Petula Clark

The British songbird took on the role in 1981 – when she was 49 years old. She allegedly worried she was too old for the part of Maria, but Clark’s run of The Sound of Music opened to positive reviews, capacity seating and even the real Maria von Trapp calling her the best Maria ever.

Marie Osmond

Various Osmond brothers allegedly auditioned for roles as the von Trapp children in the 1965 film. None got parts, but Marie became Maria for a 1990s Broadway revival. No doubt she drew upon her own life experiences, growing up around all those singing siblings.

Laura Benanti

She may have played Elsa in NBC’s live broadcast of The Sound of Music, but this Nashville star took over the role of Maria back in a 1998 Broadway revival.

Connie Fisher

Scarlett Johansson dropped out of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of The Sound of Music, and four years of searching hadn’t yielded a new Maria. So in 2006, Webber used a very millennial means to find an actress to star in a stage revival of The Sound of Music: a reality show. On the eight-episode series How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, the British viewing audience got to vote on their favorite pick for the play’s lead. Northern Irish actress Connie Fisher, seen here, won the part.

Carrie Underwood

Of course, American Idol alum Carrie Underwood ditched her country-western roots to belt out show tunes in NBC’s live take on The Sound of Music in 2013. In the end, more than 18 million people tuned in for the three-hour telecast. (Note: This clip actually comes from a 2008 broadcast of CBS’s Movies That Rock, in which Underwood first sang the play’s title song.)

Maria von Trapp

Lest we forget, Andrews was portraying the onscreen version of an actual person. The real Maria was a nun-in-the-making who began tutoring one of the von Trapp children in 1926 and married Georg von Trapp in 1927. The couple had three additional children together, and the entire family moved to Stowe, Vermont, where they founded a music camp in 1944. The von Trapps became musical celebrities, and following the success of The Sound of Music, the real Maria appeared on an episode of The Julie Andrews Hour, in which she gave Andrews a lesson in propel yodeling.

Honorable Mentions

The inspirational “Climb Every Mountain” has been covered by everyone from Leontyne Price (in 1981) to Christina Aguilera (in 2000). Shirley Bassey turned it into a U.K. No. 1 hit in 1961.

Maria’s “My Favorite Things” became a Christmastime standard, despite the fact that the song isn’t especially Christmas-y. It’s since been covered by everyone from Barbra Streisand (in 1967) and Dionne Warwick (in 2004) to Mary J. Blige and Kelly Clarkson (both in 2013).

Also, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard "Edelweiss" sung in Chinese.

And finally, Kate McKinnon’s Saturday Night Live performance as Maria may have been upstaged by Kristen Wiig’s as Dooneese, but it’s worth noting that this comedic actress could hit all the right notes.