BWW Review: AN EVENING OF CONVERSATION WITH JULIE ANDREWS at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
All rise! Her Majesty Dame Julie Andrews is in the house.
And rose they did. When Julie Andrews graced the stage at Sarasota's Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, a welcoming roar and immediate standing ovation was gifted to her by adoring fans of all generations in appreciation of her life's work.
Fans going to see this intimate evening with Julie, moderated by her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, who also co-authored many books with her mum, will be treated to an open question and answer session that Julie answers with candor throughout her show, which is also sprinkled with videos of past film and TV appearances and family pictures. Prior to the show the audience is encouraged to write questions on cards designated throughout the lobby and place them in fishbowls for a chance of having your question read and answered. The stage was nicely appointed in elegant simplicity - a big screen hung at the back of the stage offering video clips and pictures as well as a live feed of the program, 2 tall director's chairs on a beautiful Persian rug with a small table between them holding refreshments, 4 well placed cinema lights and a peppering of lush tropical plants.
Julia Elizabeth Wells was born on October 1, 1935 and became known worldwide as an actress, singer and author. Her mother and stepfather, both vaudeville performers, discovered she had perfect pitch and an undeniably gifted four-octave singing range. A series of vocal instruction followed which opened the doors to performing in music halls throughout her childhood and teens.
Miss Andrews appeared on London's West End in 1948 and made her Broadway debut in The Boyfriend in 1954, billed as "Britain's youngest prima donna". Rising to prominence in Broadway musicals, Miss Andrews carries the distinction of playing Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady and Queen Guinevere in Camelot. In 1957 a record 100 million viewers tuned in to see her performance as Cinderella in the premiere of Rogers and Hammerstein's live television musical Cinderella. Julie made her film debut in 1965 as Mary Poppins, followed shortly thereafter by her academy award winning portrayal as Maria Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, which also garnered a the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress. Miss Andrews is the recipient of a BAFTA, five Golden Globes, three Grammys, two Emmys, the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, the Kennedy Centers Honor Award, and the Disney Legends Award. She is beloved in films such as Torn Curtin, Victor/Victoria, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and The Princess Diaries and a celebrated voice over actress in animated films Shrek, Enchanted, and Despicable Me. In addition to her musical career, Julie is also an author of over 30 children's books and two autobiographies titled, Home: A Memoir of My Early Years, (2008) and Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years (2019).
Although her career flourished, Julie's personal life hasn't always been a "spoonful of sugar". Some might be surprised to know this elegant and ever poised lady grew up in humble surroundings in a slum area of London. Her stepfather was a violent alcoholic. Her love of reading became her escape. In 1997 when she developed hoarseness in her voice, she underwent surgery at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital to remove what was reported to be non-cancerous nodules from her throat. She emerged from the surgery with permanent damage, which destroyed her singing voice and left her speaking voice with a rasp. Julie states she is a big advocate for mental health and that therapy helped her sort out her "demons" from her childhood and the trauma from losing her iconic singing voice. After her divorce from first husband, set designer, Tony Walton, Julie was married to filmmaker Blake Edwards of Pink Panther and Breakfast at Tiffany's fame, until his death in 2010.
Some of the questions asked of Miss Andrews were about her "favorite things". Her daughter Emma joked with the audience that her mum was a Libra and can't ever make up her mind quickly, pointing to the Libran trait of seeking balance and appreciating all sides, making it difficult to choose one thing over another.
Here are some fun facts we learned from her generous time answering questions...
Her pen name is Julie Edwards.
Although Miss Andrews played the original role of Eliza Doolittle in the Broadway musical My Fair Lady, Audrey Hepburn was cast in the role for the movie version, which left Miss Andrews feeling sad. Studio executives felt Julie didn't have enough film experience and chose Audrey instead. The film was awarded several Oscars but failed to take home the Best Actress category. That award went to none other than Julie Andrews for her performance in Mary Poppins. (By the way, for any singing done by Miss Hepburn in the movie version, unbeknownst to her, producers dubbed her voice with that of Marni Nixon who appeared with Miss Andrews in The Sound of Music.)
Julie once possessed a five-octave coloratura soprano range until a vocal nodule surgery mishap ended her singing career.
Miss Andrews could sing notes only dogs could hear at the tender age of seven.
Julie is one of the first women to be named a Disney Legend and inducted into the Disney Hall of Fame.
During the Vietnam War, she and Blake Edwards became involved with the Committee of Responsibility, bringing injured children from the war zone to the US for treatment. Their involvement led them to adopt two Vietnamese abandoned children, Amy and Joanna.
Julie said if not a career in the entertainment industry, she would have chosen botany, due to her love of plants and flowers.
Questioned about the possibility of another Princess Diaries movie in the works, Julie said she would love to do it and felt Anne Hathaway would as well, but will have to wait for the right timing as Anne is presently pregnant.
Asked where she kept her Oscar she said it stayed in the attic a long time because she was shy and just didn't feel worthy.
A comment on one of the questionnaire cards stated what we all feel, "thank you for making my childhood so happy!" Indeed.
The final question of the evening was how she would like to be remembered. Her response - "for joy!"
One of Julie's greatest loves is writing children's books and sharing her memoirs. Quoting from her book website, "As a child I read anything and everything I could get my hands on. There was no greater joy for me than to curl up with a good read. Books transported me- away from war, into the realm of my imagination and to other worlds and ideas. They instilled in me a powerful sense of wonder. To quote the legendary Helen Hayes, 'From your parents you learn love and laughter and how to put one foot in front of the other. But when books are opened you discover you have wings.' "
Treat yourself to a beautiful evening with one of the most gracious and iconic entertainers of our time. Wouldn't it be loverly?
Check for upcoming shows and attractions at the Van Wezel, celebrating their 50th anniversary, www.vanwezel.org.