"I don't have my soprano voice any more and I miss it so much"

Julie Andrews on her voice

Courier Journal - 25 January 2007
By Mike Hughes

The show goes on for Julie Andrews

Everyone seemed to know that Julie Andrews' life would be filled with the sound of music.

She sang in public at age 2, sang to royalty at 11, had a command performance at 13. She was on Broadway at 19, did "My Fair Lady" at 21, won an Academy Award for "Mary Poppins" at 29.

The surprise, however, has been how well Andrews has done in non-singing roles. That will be clear during "The 13th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards" Sunday, when she gets the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Strip away every song and you still have a remarkable career.

"I've had some great directors to help me," Andrews said.

In the movie musicals she was guided by Robert Wise and George Roy Hill ("a terrific director") and more. In one of her first dramas, "Torn Curtain," she was directed by the imposing Alfred Hitchcock.

"Hitchcock, for me, was very generous," Andrews said. "I was nervous and as green as can be."

Then there was the most complex role in "Victor/Victoria." Andrews played a woman pretending to be a man who is disguised as a woman.

"Fortunately, I had Blake Edwards directing me," Andrews said. "And being with James Garner made a big difference."

She has worked with Garner several times and Edwards -- her husband of 37 years -- even more.

She's shown that she can do heavy drama and silly sight gags. She doesn't really need to unleash that singing voice.

In recent years, she hasn't had the choice. A botched throat surgery in 1997 changed everything.

"I don't have my soprano voice any more," Andrews said. "And I miss it so much."

That was the voice people noticed during her English childhood. Andrews' mother was a pianist and her step-dad was a vaudevillian; Julie performed at her aunt's dance school and then in vaudeville.

At 13, she was asked to perform for the royal family, at the London Palladium. "It's much easier when you're that age," she said. "I didn't know who anyone was."

A few years later, she would know enough to be scared. She was 19 when "The Boyfriend" took her to Broadway in 1954.

"It was overwhelming," Andrews recalled. "I was dizzy."

She was also steeply praised. She went on to "My Fair Lady" in 1956 and "Camelot" in 1960.

It was "My Fair Lady" that proved Andrews was also an actress. Each night, she had to transform from a salty, Cockney flower girl to a lady-in-training.

"That was a big leap for me," Andrews said. "Thank God for Moss Hart, who was the director."

Andrews didn't get the "My Fair Lady" movie, so she won her Oscar in "Mary Poppins." The next year "The Sound of Music" starring her won the best-picture Oscar.

There have also been the non-musicals -- "The Americanization of Emily," "Torn Curtain," "Hawaii," "S.O.B." and more. Lately, she has done two "Princess Diaries" films and two "Eloise" films; her third "Shrek" film will be out this summer.

She has also sung, briefly.

Andrews has written several books with her daughter, Emma. The latest, "The Great American Mousical," brought a request.

"The question came up, 'Could you manage to do a small song?' " Andrews said.

"I said, 'If you can write it within the five notes I can sing.' "

The result was "The Show Must Go On." It's included in the book's Web game, and Andrews sang it in Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

The song also symbolizes her life.

For 69 of her 71 years, Andrews has been performing. She has changed continents, changed genres and lost her singing voice. But the show goes on.