Director Anton Luitingh surveys dozens of hopeful child actors at the Grand Theatre at Marina Bay Sands.
"Discover a British accent. Get rid of any other accent you have," he says. "Why is this necessary? Because you want people to believe you're Austrian."
Welcome to the wacky world of auditions for The Sound Of Music, where cultural authenticity is less important than creating a musical reminiscent of the beloved 1965 movie starring Julie Andrews.
The Sound Of Music first opened on Broadway with an American cast in 1959, but generations of children and adults best remember the film version, with British actress Andrews and seven perky children singing Rodgers & Hammerstein songs such as Do-Re-Mi, My Favourite Things and So Long, Farewell.
This was the performance that made immortal the story of Maria, a singing governess who endears herself to seven children and marries their father, Captain von Trapp, as Nazis took over their native Austria.
The stage version of the musical plays in Singapore from July 11 to Aug 10 and is presented by Lunchbox Theatrical Productions and Base Entertainment. The musical is currently running in Johannesburg, in Luitingh's native South Africa, and will later travel to New Zealand.
In each city, the director seeks local actors to play the six younger von Trapps, aged four to 14 - no sweet young things of 16 going on 17 need apply. He needs children to play Friedrich, Louisa, Kurt, Brigitta, Marta and Gretl. In total, 18 children, three sets of six, are needed to ensure the month-long schedule of evening and matinee performances does not overtire any one young actor.
Luitingh, who held auditions here from last Friday to Sunday, says: "They've got to be able to sing, they've got to be able to dance and then throw in the fact that they have to be a certain height."
Height is important because of a memorable scene at the start where the children march into a room in order of height and introduce themselves to Maria. The tallest, a boy actor playing the second-oldest child Friedrich, cannot be more than 1.52m tall, while the shortest, a girl playing Gretl, the baby of the family, should be around 1.2m.
A tall order, perhaps, but as Maria sings in the musical, I Have Confidence. When inquiries went out earlier this month, about 150 were struck out from about 500 initial responders, either because the children were the wrong height or could not commit to four weeks of rehearsals from June 16.
That still left around 350 children on the first day of auditions, including Zoe Kofmehl, 10, who is supposed to move to Canada in June with her parents and two brothers. However, her mother, housewife Liz, 48, says: "If this happens and she gets in, we'll leave on Aug 11, after the show."
Children were told they did not need to prepare before the auditions, but like many who turned up, Zoe, who studies at the Swiss School, was brought up on The Sound Of Music film.
She says: "In my head, before I fell asleep, I was revising the songs because I knew them already."
After registration, they are given colour-coded tags based on the part they are auditioning for. Parents are asked to wait in the Sands Theatre as their children are taken into the adjoining Grand Theatre by staff from local arts school Centre Stage School of the Arts, which helped organise the auditions.
Parents are strictly forbidden from watching the auditions and, surprisingly, they comply, although this reporter was mistaken for an errant mum and nearly ejected until the public relations representative came to the rescue.
Luitingh begins with a pep talk: "If you don't make it through the first five minutes, it doesn't mean you're not brilliant or talented. It just means you're not what we're looking for in this production and we are looking for a lot of things, like how tall you are."