Oh baby, won’t you play me
Le Julie, maybe –
And don’t ever let it end!
In today’s Saturday List, we’re looking at “The Crown Julies,” the five Broadway and off-Broadway stage appearances of Julie Andrews. While her successes encompass far more than these five musicals, sometimes it’s delightful to celebrate ‘the simple joys of maidenhood’ and think about where it all began for Andrews: the stage! Of course, Andrews had already had a long career as a singer before touching down in New York in 1954 – but we’ll save the rest of her incomparable career for another day!
5. Putting it Together (1993)
Running for 59 performances following 37 previews, Putting it Together was Andrews’s shortest New York season. Her return to a New York stage in a musical after more than three decades caused a frenzy for tickets at the time. The show is a mixed bag no matter who is in the cast due to its flimsy retelling of the plot of the masterful Follies. On the other hand, the album captures some classic Andrews performances of Stephen Sondheim songs, including her impeccable take on “Not Getting Married Today” and a heart-rending reading of “Like It Was.” And, of course, one simply can’t pass up the opportunity of hearing the actress who brought Mary Poppins to life exclaim, “Oh, fuck it, let’s do it!” It is a real pity we never were able to see Andrews in a full-scale Sondheim production. What a memorable Desiree she would have made!
4. The Boy Friend (1954)
The Boy Friend was Andrews’s Broadway debut. A camped-up version of Sandy Wilson’s long-running West End success (in which Andrews did not appear), the show ran for 485 performances. In a story of a quintet of young women looking for love, Andrews played the central part of Polly Browne, who is that little bit more sentimental than her frantic roommates at Mme Dubonnet’s School for Young Ladies. It is super to have the cast recording from this show as a snapshot of Andrews at this stage of her career. Everything we love about Andrews is in place in the sheer exuberance of the title song and the sweet romance of “I Could Be Happy with You” and “A Room in Bloomsbury.” While the piece isn’t as demanding as future projects like My Fair Lady or Camelot, the joy of The Boy Friend has always been in its simplicity, and Andrews is just pitch perfect in this valentine to the 1920s.
3. Victor/Victoria (1995)
Andrews’s third longest-running musical in New York was Victor/Victoria, an adaptation of the much better 1982 film in which she starred as a woman who takes on the persona of a man who takes Paris by storm as a virtuoso drag artist. If this list were to be ranked qualitatively, Victor/Victoria would end up last on the merits of “Paris Makes Me Horny” alone. While Blake Edwards’s adaptation fails to capture the magic of his original film, the pro-shot reveals that there were some high points, like the production numbers staged by Rob Marshall to “Le Jazz Hot” and “Louis Says.” Frank Wildhorn scored that latter song, teaming up with Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse to augment the film’s roster of musical numbers for Broadway. Musical theatre fans probably remember the show most for its Tony Awards controversy. When Andrews earned the only nomination given to the show, she declined it, saying that she preferred ‘to stand instead with the egregiously overlooked’ members of her Victor/Victoria family. What a fabulous moment of integrity for this stage and screen legend!
2. Camelot (1960)
Camelot reunited Andrews with Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe to tell the story of how Queen Guenevere’s love for Lancelot, King Arthur’s most trusted knight, dismantled the fabled British kingdom and its legend of justice. Andrews was joined on stage by Richard Burton and Robert Goulet. Audiences were expecting the show to repeat the success of My Fair Lady, but the famously troubled rehearsal process saw a show open that was not as good as it could have been. Despite some fantastic writing, the book creaks along from one song to the next, almost all of which are glorious Golden Age pieces. Andrews did most of the heavy lifting when it came to the score. One hears her singing more carefully on the cast recording than after years of performing in My Fair Lady, which doesn’t make “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood,” “The Lusty Month of May,” “Then You May Take Me to the Fair” or “I Loved You Once in Silence.” Camelot captures Andrews’s incredible wit as a performer alongside her ability to interpret a romantic lyric in her glorious soprano most brilliantly.
1. My Fair Lady (1956)
While Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s Cinderella and the miracle of television first placed Julie Andrews front and centre in American pop culture in the 1950s, another Cinderella role, Eliza Doolittle, in My Fair Lady was her most significant success on stage. While Eliza transforms from a Cockney flower girl into a lady under the tutelage of Henry Higgins, Andrews had to work backwards and learn how to speak in a Cockney accent with a real-life tutor. Two cast recordings preserve the original production show, the Broadway album and the later stereo album recorded in London. Everyone has their favourite of the two, many preferring the second album, but it is interesting to hear how Andrews grew in the role over her long run with the show. On both albums, she puts her definitive stamp on the numbers she introduced, including “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?,” “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Just You Wait,” the last of which is played with abandon each twentieth of May in celebration of Andrews’s most memorable stage heroine!
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