By RANDAL C. HILL
At age 84, Dame Julie Andrews has seemingly done it all: Over the decades, she’s earned an Academy Award, five Golden Globes, three Grammys, two Primetime Emmy Awards and a Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award.
In September, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 76th edition of the Venice Film Festival in Italy.
Soon the beloved icon will discuss her extraordinary
life and take questions from the audience during “An
Evening of Conversation with Julie Andrews,” which comes to Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall on Nov. 13 and Sarasota’s Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall on
Julia Elizabeth Wells was born in 1935 in Surrey, England and grew up in an impoverished musical family. Her troubled mother, Barbara, played the piano, and her alcoholic stepfather, Ted Andrews (from whom she took her surname) sang and performed vaudeville skits.
Andrews often took his new wife and young stepdaughter on the road with him; it didn’t take long for the 10-year-old Julie to emerge as the most talented member of the troupe.
After spending years on British radio, television and stages, the songstress came to
the States in 1954 to play the lead role in the Broadway show The Boy Friend. She admits it wasn’t the most promising of all her performances.
“The truth is, I was terrible in the play – at least I thought I was,” she told the Liverpool
Echo newspaper. “I was playing a Southern girl from Tennessee, and I had no idea
what kind of an accent I was supposed to be doing, or anything like that. And I was
very, very young.”
“But although I was very bad in the play, Cy Feuer (the producer) came back[stage] afterwards, and the first thing he said to me, probably the only thing he could
say to me, was ‘You’ve got perfect pitch.’
“And I said ‘Yes, I do.’”
When she won the role of Eliza Doolittle in the
musical My Fair Lady, she was billed as “Britain’s
youngest prima donna.” Unfortunately, when Warner Brothers turned the hit play into a movie, they sought a “name” actress for the film and hired Audrey Hepburn to play Eliza.
But good luck—in the form of a surprise visitor—
was waiting in the wings.
While Andrews was emoting as Queen Guinevere in Broadway’s Camelot, Walt Disney showed up to tell her about a new project: Mary Poppins, the lovable, magical nanny who declared that she was “practically perfect in every way.” The 1964 musical fantasy film starring Andrews was a smash hit.
When she auditioned for the role of Maria in The Sound of Music, Julie found herself up against more “bankable” names such as Doris Day and Grace Kelly. This time, though, she was granted her star turn as Maria, the singing governess to the von Trapp family and the
mountaintop-twirling, joyously exuberant nun-nomore.
Her work calendar remained full until one fateful day in 1997. During surgery for a non-cancerous growth on her vocal cords, the procedure went wrong, and she lost her singing voice, which was reduced to a fragile alto. The toll on the beloved superstar proved
to be emotional as well as physical; in 1999 she underwent grief counseling.
Eventually, she learned a new way of singing and told Britain’s The Telegraph, “I have about five good bass notes, and I can work my way around them pretty well…I also employ that Rex Harrison sing-speak kind of voice. I narrate a lot. I tell tales.”
She also said, “When careers last as long as mine— and it’s been a lot of years now—I’m very fortunate that I’m still around…All careers go up and down like friendships, like marriages, like anything else.”
“I think I’ve been very, very lucky.”
Onstage, the lady legend will be sharing her personal evolution, from her precocious childhood days to her current projects, one of which involves doing voice-over work for a new Netflix series. Opening with a video montage of her work, Andrews will be joined
on stage by her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, who co-wrote her mother’s second autobiography and will facilitate questions from the audience.
“An Evening of Conversation with Julie Andrews” Coming to Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall, Nov. 13, at 7:30 p.m.
Visit RuthEckerdHall.com or call
On Nov. 14, see the 7:30 p.m. show at Sarasota’s Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. Visit vanwezel.org or call (941) 953-3368.