Julie Andrews Autobiography Released March 2008 in the UK -- April 2008 in the US

Worcester Telegram
30 March 2008
By Richard Duckett

Even without singing, Julie Andrews still embodies ‘the sound of music’ -- Renowned actress will
introduce Mechanics Hall benefit

The voice sounded unmistakable. It could only be the voice of Julie Andrews, and it was.

“I’m delighted I’m coming,” Ms. Andrews said during a telephone interview nine days ago from her home on the West Coast. She sounded nice, charming and polite, and impeccably English even after many years stateside. In short, just like you would imagine Ms. Andrews would sound.

She’s coming to Mechanics Hall, 321 Main St., Worcester, on Thursday to be the guest of honor at a concert titled, appropriately (assuming you know your “Sound of Music”), “The Hills Are Alive.”

The concert will feature singers, dancers, bands and an orchestra from the Worcester Public Schools as a fundraiser for the Worcester Educational Development Foundation. The sole purpose of the nonprofit foundation is to improve educational opportunities for the students and teachers in the Worcester Public Schools. Proceeds from the concert will benefit arts programs. Ms. Andrews will introduce the concert, which starts at 7 p.m. and also be present as the guest at a pre-show reception from 5 to 7 p.m.

She said she’s pleased to be able to give her voice to such an event. “What they (the foundation) do is where my heart is — the funding for the schools and the need for the arts. I’m so happy to help in any way.”

It’s a happy set of circumstances. She said her appearance here will come about as the result of a couple of factors. “Primarily first of all, I read an enchanting letter and a very charming follow-up from Janet Mathieu and Frances Arena.”

Ms. Mathieu is a community outreach specialist for the Worcester school system and a foundation volunteer. Ms. Arena is manager of curriculum management and development for the Worcester schools and a board member of the foundation. The foundation has presented an annual concert featuring Worcester students for the past couple of years. This year Ms. Mathieu and Ms. Arena thought about inviting Ms Andrews, and thought, why not? They also sent Ms. Andrews a video of a previous concert.

“What a great thrill for them,” Ms. Arena said of the students who will be participating Thursday.

Furthermore, Ms. Andrews, 72, said that the date of the concert “just happened to fit in with my appearance schedule.” She is heading East this week to promote her autobiography, “Home: A Memoir of My Early Years,” which will be officially published on Tuesday. She will fit her Mechanics Hall appearance in between book signings, including one at Boston Borders Downtown Crossing at 1 p.m. Friday.

The book spans Ms. Andrews’ life from 1935-1962, recollecting her family, the London Blitz of World War II and a childhood spent on radio and in music halls followed by coming to Broadway at 18. Besides having a wonderful personality, Ms. Andrews also possessed a rare four-octave coloratura soprano singing voice. By the end of the book, Hollywood has called, and what lay ahead included “The Sound of Music,” “Mary Poppins” and “Victor/Victoria” (and also “Hawaii,” which saw Ms. Andrews film some scenes in Old Sturbridge Village in 1965).

With regard to her Broadway debut, she made it in the musical “The Boyfriend.” One of the other cast members of the show was Jerry Newby, who worked on Broadway in the 1950s as an actor before a form of arthritis prematurely cut short his performing career. Newby, who lives in Worcester, has stayed active with theater despite a recent illness. He has been endeavoring to put together a touring cabaret show, and said last week that he has just started writing a musical for the first time.

When asked if she remembered Mr. Newby, Ms. Andrews responded, “Oh my gosh.” Told what he was doing, she said, “That’s amazing. Good for him. He was a good friend in those days. I think of him with great affection.”

Mr. Newby was moved to hear that she does remember him. “She does? Oh my God.” He said he plans to write Ms. Andrews a letter.

As for Ms. Andrews writing her memoirs, she said she’s been working at the book “a long, long time. They’ve been asking me to do it for 14 years. I would say in total (writing) four years.”

Was it daunting to look back on her life?

“It is very daunting, because I wanted to get it right and to recreate a small piece of theater history I witnessed — some of the last days of English vaudeville. I really wanted to give a slice of theater history that perhaps people don’t know about.”

Ms. Andrews said she was shaped as a performer by the old vaudeville and music hall houses. “They formed me, that’s for sure.”

The book made news recently in England when it was revealed that Ms. Andrews discloses she was born as the result of a brief affair her mother had while married. She didn’t find out from her mother whom her real father was until she was 14. The Sunday Times of London ran a story March 9.

However, Ms. Andrews politely made it clear she wasn’t really interested in talking about the subject during this interview.

“That’s tabloid stuff,” she said. “It’s such a small part of the book, actually. It is what it is.”

She used that phrase when talking about another sensitive aspect of her life, but Ms. Andrews is perfectly forthcoming about her voice.

Eleven or more years ago, it would have been unimaginable that Ms. Andrews would come to Mechanics Hall and not sing. Her singing voice seemed timeless. Then, in 1997, she had what should have been routine surgery to remove benign nodules in her throat. The surgery ended up damaging her voice so that she can no longer sing. The unimaginable, in other words, had happened.

Does she miss singing?

“Very much,” she replied. “How could I not? It was the greatest joy. I particularly miss singing with a beautiful orchestra.”

Still, Ms. Andrews has evidently moved forward with enthusiasm about her current activities. A couple of years ago she directed a revival of “The Boyfriend” that came to the Wang Theater in Boston. “I would love to do more of that,” she said of directing.

Meanwhile, she has collaborated with her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, on co-authoring 16 children’s books, and has worked on other projects to bring the arts to children. She has her own imprint, The Julie Andrews Collection, at HarperCollins Publishers.

“I’m passionate about bringing arts education into schools … I’m also a passionate advocate for libraries. And libraries are in need of help right now,” Ms. Andrews said.

“My daughter said, ‘You’ve just found a new way of using your voice now.’ I have found a different way. It’s a new voice.”

Thursday, she’ll get to hear some other new voices.

Ms. Arena said Ms. Andrews can “just be our guest, sit back and relax and watch our accomplished musicians perform.”

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