If, indeed, Richard Chamberlain insisted on some recasting of The Sound of Music, as David Patrick Stearns suggests in his review, he certainly did the right thing when newcomer Laura Benanti was cast as Maria (''Chamberlain making beautiful 'Music,' '' Stage Review, Life, Tuesday).
Five years ago, Benanti, then 14, auditioned in a New Jersey theater for any role in Evita, most likely in the ensemble.
It took just about 30 seconds of her audition for it to become obvious that this young woman was something special. Beautiful, talented and a soprano voice from heaven -- it was all there.
As director, I cast her in the show as former Argentine president Juan Peron's teen-age mistress and in the ensemble.
She was wonderful.
Two years later, she was Cinderella in a production of Into the Woods at the same theater.
She was magical.
Now Cinderella is on Broadway, and the pumpkin will not disappear at midnight. I saw her as Maria, and there were tears in my eyes when she made her entrance.
I can say honestly, ''I knew her when.''
©1999 USA Today