Julie Andrews, The O2, London – Saturday, May 8th
You know the story – Julie Andrews, star of Broadway and the silver screen, angelic voice, finest Dame around. Then 14 years ago, a botched operation on her vocal chords struck down her range to almost zero. But hang on a minute, she’s doing a concert at the O2 so she must be able to sing again, right? Well, that’s the fair assumption we made too, but one that was sorely mistaken. The evening with Julie Andrews turned out to be heart-breaking in the extreme as she introduced songs and then sat forlornly through them, gazing into her past and what might have been…
Saturday night was billed as ‘The Gift Of Music: An Evening With Julie Andrews’ and the programme notes declared that she would sing a few songs from her famous shows but also be joined on-stage by some friends – and had that been the case, we might have gone away happy. Because it wouldn’t have taken much to please the audience here, all stalwart Julie fans who’d turned out to see a living legend – and we were no exception. When she eventually arrived on-stage 20 minutes late in a gold, flowing dress, she looked and spoke as regally as ever. For the simple act of walking on-stage she received a standing ovation from her willing audience – but the evening went downhill from there.
After filling us in on how pleased she was to be here, she told us her voice was shot, but that she could still “sing the hell out of Old Man River.” Laughter all round, but she wasn’t joking. The first half of the evening consisted of a tribute to Rodgers and Hammerstein and Julie chatting about her career intermittently. She sang the odd few lines from a King And I track, but mainly she introduced the songs and let the hired help do the work. Meanwhile, Julie either watched from a lonely stool or wandered off-stage entirely. Worse still, the songs chosen were obscure, none from My Fair Lady or Mary Poppins, but oddly There Is Nothing Like A Dame from South Pacific, sung by her three willing helpers. Julie did attempt an ultra-low My Funny Valentine when she really shouldn’t have, and half-heartedly joined in with Doe Rae Me, but let the entourage carry it. The second half involved her narrating a children’s book that she’d written with her daughter while the hired help acted it out, topped off by her singing a few lines of Edelweiss. Vintage, it wasn’t.
Being that she is Julie Andrews, that the Sound Of Music is aired once a minute around the world and that she bagged £20m in compensation from the botched surgery, I’m assuming that the Dame doesn’t need the money. Which begs the question, why do something like this? A sub-standard first half sunk beyond trace during part two, as did the patience of most of the audience if the audible grumbles and emptying seats were anything to go by. Tragic and heart-breaking all in one, it was special to share the same air as a living legend but if you weren’t there and still remember Julie as she was, be thankful.