Should you ever receive a gift from Julie Andrews be sure to ask for the receipt as you will almost certainly want to take it back and exchange it for something better.
In The Gift of Music at the O2 “musical icon and beloved actress” Julie Andrews returned to the UK stage for the first time in 30 years with a “special performance”.
As an opener she made reference to the 1997 botched throat operation after which she thought she would never sing again: “I can’t sing as high or as well as I used to, but I can still song the hell out of ‘Ol’ Man River!” she declared (actually, she said “Old”; her diction remains signally unbotched).
“Oooh, can’t wait for her to sing that,” said Andrew excitedly to his companion and fellow Julie Andrews fan Judy (Phil not making it due to a ticketing mix up), marvelling at her Darwinian adaptability to overcome her cruelly crippled singing voice and evolve into Paul Robeson. Perhaps there would be blacking up too? For it was all that old-fashioned. But we get ahead of ourselves.
But it turned out that the first half was to be songs from the canon of Rodgers & Hammerstein so no, she didn’t sing the hell out of “Ol’ Man River”. She didn’t sing the hell out of anything. She didn’t sing that much at all. The half-time count was;
- 1 complete song – “My Funny Valentine” (actually Rodgers & Hart)
- Half of “Impossible; It’s Possible” from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s 1957 live-broadcast TV musical Cinderella.
- Odd lines from a handful of others
Otherwise, the singing was taken care of by “an ensemble of 5 performers who have graced the West End and/or Broadway”.
Of course, we have only ourselves to blame. AGAIN we didn’t do our research. Miss Andrews’ miraculous vocal recovery is explained in this Telegraph article in which she reveals that “she has developed a “sing-speak” style and discovered bass notes which she did not previously use”. The technical term for “sing-speak”, of course, is “doing a Rex Harrison” and the technical term for “bass notes which she did not previously use” is “singing like a navvy.”
It explains a lot but resulted in the most disconcertingly re-written melodies in which soaring notes were replaced by diving ones. The decision to include The Sound of Music‘s “Do-Re-Mi” in the show was quite baffling as it served merely to illustrate that Miss Andrews can not manage an entire octave.
All this would, of course, have simply been very sad were it not for the sleight-of-hand of the show’s marketing and the ticket prices. Andrew was at the back of the gods for £54 and about one mile away from the stage. For £12 he could have bought a souvenir brochure to see what the people on the stage looked like but by now he was being very wary of Miss Andrews’ “gifts”.
Of course there were things to enjoy: the sound of a large, live orchestra (in this case the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra) is always a treat but as concerts go, this really didn’t compare favourably with an average Friday Night Is Music Night recording with Kim Criswell at the Hackney Empire. It didn’t help that its Rodgers & Hammerstein theme came so soon after Maria Friedman’s and Daniel Evans‘ superior (children-on-stage notwithstanding) effort.
Andrew & Judy fled during the interval, bedding themselves down with a reviving drink in the O2’s Blueroom bar and licking their wounds. People made of sterner stuff were treated to Miss Andrews narrating the children’s book she wrote with her daughter followed by eight notes of Edelweiss and a standing ovation (our thanks to David Allardice for filling us in on Act 2).
The ushers are friendly and helpful but the policies are as draconian as air travel or (one imagines) a football stadium. Your bottle of water is confiscated when you enter. If you buy a bottle of water at a bar they remove the cap and refuse to let you have it. This, apparently, is “due to Health & Safety”. There is also a “no readmission” policy which means that smokers are unable to nip out to the smoking area in the interval which seems pretty harsh and unaccommodating, even in this day and age. Oh, and another thing about the O2: if you hold the tickets and your friend is late you many NOT leave the ticket for them to pick up at the box office. Isn’t that nice?