TO REVIVE ONE of the most-watched and best-loved musicals in history is always going to be tough - especially when it's been made into a movie so successful that many people forget it started life as a stage production. But it's a challenge that Michael Duff has taken on with aplomb. As music director of The Sound of Music, he says he's reinvented the Broadway hit by combining the best of both the stage and screen versions. Its Singapore tour last month was a sell-out. And musicians are being auditioned for the production's opening in Hong Kong in September. 'I tried to stay true to the score,' Duff says. 'I grew up with Rodgers and Hammerstein. They're great writers - their craft is exceptional. I've learnt a lot from both of them. I just keep in mind that the audience is seeing it for the first time. It's my job to try to hit it like the opening night every night and keep the musicians fresh.' The Sound of Music is based on the true story of the von Trapps, an Austrian family who fled their homeland during the second world war. The musical, written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, was first staged in New Haven in 1959 and became a Broadway hit the next month. It ran for 1,443 performances and earned seven Tony Awards, including best musical. The original cast's album earned a gold record and won a Grammy award. Then in 1965, director Robert Wise turned the musical into a film starring Julie Andrews as Maria and Christopher Plummer as the Captain. It won five Academy Awards. Duff's version adds two songs to the original 205-page score, but he says it's irrelevant whether numbers have been added or removed - what's important is how the story comes through. 'If it's told clearly, the audience is with you.' Asian audiences won't be familiar with the original stage production, and Duff says they'll inevitably compare his show with the film. Which doesn't worry him because, he says, you can't beat the thrill of a live production. 'When you step into the theatre you're getting a different experience,' Duff says. 'The audience play a major character - they have a job. In the movie, you can just sit there. I'd rather play live. I like the interaction.' Not that he's trying to downgrade the movie. 'I like the film a lot,' he says. 'Usually, in the States when a musical becomes a hit, they want to make a film out of it. Movies reach more people. You can't take a show to a small town. Normally, movies don't come out as well. But The Sound of Music is an exception. The cinematography of the Alps was spectacular.' The Asia tour, which began in May last year in Shanghai, is Duff's fourth involvement with The Sound Of Music. He staged three productions of it during the 80s and 90s. But this one, which stars Jennifer Semrick as Maria and Jim Ballard as the Captain, is the biggest yet. Apart from Shanghai, it's played in cities across the mainland, including Beijing, as well as South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore. As soon as the cast - which includes seven von Trapp children - was finalised last year, Duff began rehearsing the actors, who are aged between five and 25. 'I spent four days working with them,' Duff says. 'Those were four pretty intensive days. Then, we flew to Shanghai and worked for 10 to 14 days to put the rest of the show together.' The 30-member orchestra is made up of eight core musicians, including associate musical director Mark Snedegar, with the rest selected from local talent. The score is sent ahead in time for them to learn their parts before the show arrives in town. Snedegar is already auditioning musicians for the Hong Kong leg of the tour. During a week-long run-up to the opening, the local musicians attend six rehearsals, four sound checks and one dress rehearsal. 'We do the whole rehearsal process locally,' Duff says. 'This keeps it fresh. We do a lot of teaching and coaching, but I'm happy to teach. We have some very young players. The youngest was a 15-year-old guitarist who performed in our Shenyang show. It's a very young age to take that kind of responsibility.' The production is expected to travel to other countries after visiting Hong Kong, although details have yet to be confirmed. Duff says that each audience responds in different ways - depending, in part, on how much English they understand. But he says that no matter where The Sound Of Music is performed, it's always a big hit. 'It's a classic,' he says. 'The story is timeless. You're dealing with political conflicts, parents and children. They're pretty universal topics and they don't change over time. This is the stuff we all relate to. I think this is what makes the show, which also deals with religion and faith. These issues all merge together in one story - that happened to be based on a true story.'