Monday, March 24, 2008


A lavish musical production based on the life of British music hall and Broadway star Gertrude Lawrence, STAR! was created as a vehicle for Julie Andrews. But had it not been for a reprieve on cable TV in 1993, the film ran the risk of being forever forgotten.

The movie did well in previews, but when it hit the theatres, the audience did not respond. One of the problems could have been the public's lack of familiarity with the film's subject, Gertrude Lawrence.

In the early 1940's Gertrude Lawrence, while starring in the Broadway musical Lady in the Dark, watches a newsreel summary of her career and recalls her past: In 1915 as a young woman, Gertrude leaves her mother's home in Bermondsey and goes to Brixton to join her father, Arthur, and his partner Rose, who are performing at a seedy music hall. Deciding that she also wants a career on the stage, Gertrude eventually lands a chorus job in London in an Andre Charlot revue. There her deliberate attempts to steal the limelight nearly lose her job, but the company's stage manager, Jack Roper, intervenes. Gertrude marries Jack, but his idea of marriage conflicts with her professional ambitions, and they divorce shortly after the birth of their daughter, Pamela. Helped by childhood friend and confidant Noel Coward, Gertrude stars in Charlot's first New York revue and receives instant acclaim. Each success makes it more difficult for her to choose among her suitors, however, and she juggles diplomat Sir Anthony Spencer, American actor Charles Fraser, and New York stockbroker Ben Mitchell, without committing herself to any of them. Similarly, her preoccupation with her career has also led to estrangement from her rapidly-maturing daughter, Pamela. Eventually, Gertrude's increasingly extravagant lifestyle leads her to bankruptcy, and she collapses from overworking to pay off her sizable debts. Following an enormous success with Noel Coward in his Tonight at 8:30, Gertrude goes on to do her first dramatic role in Susan and God. After a long run, Gertrude sees Richard Aldrich, a New England banker whom she had met earlier while playing Private Lives in London. Though initially hostile toward him, Gertrude agrees to appear in Skylark at Aldrich's Cape Cod playhouse; and after scoring a personal triumph in Lady in the Dark Gertrude marries Aldrich.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Thoroughly Modern Millie

THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE: roadsters, Gatsby-style parties, daredevil stunts, candy-striped biplanes, flapper fashions, and a subplot involving white slavery that could have come from any old Saturday serial.

Eager young Millie Dillmount (Julie Andrews) is determined to keep up with the trendsetters in the Roaring 20s. "I don't want to be your equal any more – I want to be a woman". She arrives in New York City to a women's hotel run by Mrs. Meers (Beatrice Lillie), who also runs a white slavery ring. Millie is intent on finding a job as a secretary with a rich, handsome, eligible boss. Deciding to adopt the appearance of a flapper, she has her hair bobbed.
Millie does get a job with a handsome boss, Trevor Graydon (John Gavin), but he has eyes only for Miss Dorothy (Mary Tyler Moore), and Millie is forced to make do with Jimmy Smith (James Fox), a paper-clip salesman.
After they've returned to the hotel from attending a party at the Long Island estate of wealthy Muzzy van Hossmere (Carol Channing), Millie finds that Miss Dorothy has disappeared. When she and Jimmy detect the scent of opium in Mrs. Meers's room, they realize she has a sideline. The valiant Jimmy must go in drag to uncover the whereabouts of the white slavers' hideout.

The film’s funniest moment is when Andrews vamps it up in her boss's office.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Victor Victoria

In 1930s Paris, starving opera singer Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews) is aided by gay cabaret performer Carroll Todd "Toddy" (Robert Preston) at a Paris restaurant as she is scheming to plant a cockroach in her food in order to get her meal for free. When Victoria dons Toddy's ex's clothes and then sends the abusive ex flying with a booming shout and an equally booming right hook, Toddy is hit with inspiration: he'll pass her off as a female impersonator. A woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman?

Soon Victoria's new persona, "Count Victor Grezinski", becomes the toast of Paris. As money and fame start to turn her (and Toddy's) lives around. It all goes well until Chicago "businessman" King Marchand (James Garner), starts to investigate, sure that a man like himself could never fall for another man! He finds himself at first repelled by and then strangely attracted to "Victor". This encourages his burly bodyguard, "Squash" Bernstein (Alex Karras), to come out of the closet, but it enrages Marchand's dim-witted girlfriend, Norma Cassady (brilliantly acted by Leslie Ann Warren). As Marchand tries to get to the source of his attraction to the entertainer, trying to uncover the truth behind the rhinestone headdress, the farce commences, and the meaning of gender and sexual preference comes into question for all the characters.

Victoria must come to terms with what she really wants out of life: to be true to herself by giving up her career and fame in Paris to be with the man who loves her and whom she loves, or to continue with her duplicitous profession and risk losing Marchand.
Interwoven throughout the comedy and musical numbers are some surprisingly astute observations about gender perceptions, discrimination and the battle of the sexes.

The vocal numbers in the film are presented as real-life scenes or entertainments that involve singers; this explains why neither Toddy nor Marchand sings a duet with Victoria as part of some sort of private scene. Nevertheless, the lyrics or situations of some of the songs are calculated to relate to the unfolding drama. Thus, the two staged numbers "Le Jazz Hot" and "The Shady Dame from Seville" help to present Victoria as a female impersonator. The latter number is hilariously reinterpreted by Toddy for diversionary purposes in the plot.

The cozy relationship of Toddy and Victoria is promoted by the song "You and Me," which is sung before the audience at the nightclub.

In any case, perhaps the most beautiful number is Victoria's slowish waltz-song entitled "Crazy World," the lyrics of which allude to her confused status.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Relative Values

No-one ever said that Julie Andrews didn't glow. Or didn't look utterly English. She seems - even when standing motionless - to have the jolliest kind of life going on inside her and to represent an England which barely exists any more. It is most fitting, then, that she is the comic cornerstone of Noël Coward's high-jinks frolic, a happy satire on English class set in the 50s. She is a woman content with her status and class, but bright enough to see that social change is just over the hill.
A comedy of discriminating taste and dirty little secrets it is indeed a very funny play, where the Countess Felicity, of Marshwood (Julie Andrews), her sartorially splendid and mischevious nephew Peter (Colin Firth) and the butler Crestwell (Stephen Fry) gets all the laughs.
The action revolves around the aristocratic Marshwood family and its reaction to a newcomer. Worlds collide when young, handsome and charming Nigel ( Edward Atterton) meets spoiled Hollywood starlet Miranda Frayle (Jeanne Tripplehorn). Miranda is rebounding from a stormy romance with co-star Don Lucas ( William Baldwin) when she meets Nigel. Always eager to be among the rich and the beautiful, Miranda eagerly accepts Nigel’s advances. The two soon announce they are in love and plan to get married, which shocks and appals all who know them.

Right before the engagement party to be held at Marshwood, Moxie (Sophie Thompson), the Countess's personal maid and best friend reveals that Miranda is her estranged sister. Crestwell quickly devises a plan-but an inebriated Lucas's arrival at Marshwood to try to talk to Miranda causes all chaos to break loose...
The satirical main story line is drawn out as the Countess, Miss Frayle and the maid in disguise - Moxie - converse, the latter cleverly revealing the flaws in the American's rags-to-riches tale. There are those who claim Relative Valuesis Coward slapping Americans in the face, particularly Hollywood types, for their shallowness and lack of style, and satirizing the Brits for their pomposity.

Memorable Quote from "Relative Values":

Miranda Frayle: I am leaving; I am taking the 11 o'clock train.
Nigel: No, you can't do that!
Miranda Frayle: Why?
Nigel: It's a terrible train. You have to change twice!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Shrek 2

In Shrek 2, screen legend Julie Andrews lends her voice to Queen Lillian. Andrews is already a pro at portraying royalty, this being her third role as queen. Lillian is the voice of reason for the scattered King Harold (John Cleese). While Harold is reluctant to accept his daughter's choice to take an Ogre for a husband and also to become an Ogre herself, Lillian understands. She has her reasons.

Shrek 2 marks the first time Andrews has done a voice for a fully animated feature. "It's a bit different. I've done, in my extreme youth, I re-dubbed a Czechoslovakian animated film, but mostly singing, not speaking. It came and disappeared so rapidly, I don't even know that there is a copy of it anywhere. And I did a couple of sort of tiny voices of [Mary] Poppins, believe it or not. But, nothing like this, nothing at all. It's three or four days work, yes. That's all it is. It's unbelievable. And you have no idea whether you are hitting a bulls-eye or whether you're wide of the mark and they ask you to give tons of variations on phrasing and how you say it. 'Say it sternly, say it sadly, say it this,' and then they pick what they want. It's truly a director's medium in that respect. "

Although most of the voice talent in Shrek 2 work alone, Andrews did get the chance to work one day with her King, John Cleese. It was also her first time meeting Cleese. "I had one day with him, which was great. And then two other days when he wasn't there, but the day with John was great."

Since there is nothing to act against in animation, no backgrounds, props, and, for the most part, other actors, Andrews discusses the process: "Well, they'd show you a storyline, they'd show you pictures of the storyboard, they have it all up and they run you through it. 'We think the queen is such and such and such and such.' The very first day I met everybody I started to put some lines down, and I kept thinking, 'But how can I? I haven't worked on anything. I don't know what I'm saying?' But, you literally fly by the seat of your pants in a way. You just go for it and you trust that they know what they're doing and it seems they do."
"I think more the challenge was what appealed to me. Jeffrey Katzenberg said, 'Would [you] care to be the queen?' I said, 'Another queen?' They said, 'Yeah, but it's different and I think you'll love it' and I said, 'Okay, I'm for it.' Especially with seven grandkids. I'm in with my grandchildren. [Queen Lillian's] so, when I saw this Shrek the other night, I kept thinking, 'I guess that's my voice.' She doesn't look like me, but he doesn't look like John Cleese and certainly Shrek isn't like Mike Myers in that respect. But, it's okay. It's kind of interesting. But yes, I'm very pleased to be part of it, I really am."

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Career revival in the 2000s

In the 2000 New Year's Honours, despite Andrews's long exile in the United States and Switzerland, she was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE). She also appears in the 2002 List of 100 Greatest Britons" sponsored by the and chosen by the public.
In 2001, Andrews received Kennedy Center Honors. The same year, she reunited with Sound of Music costar Christopher Plummer in a live television performance of On Golden Pond.

In 2001, Andrews appeared in The Princess Diaries, her first Disney film since 1964's Mary Poppins. The film, in which she starred as Queen Clarisse Marie Renaldi opposite Anne Hathaway, was a box office success and was followed by a sequel, The Princess Diaries 2(2004). In The Princess Diaries 2, Andrews sang on film for the first time since her throat surgery. The song, "Your Crowning Glory", was set in a limited range of an octave to accommodate Andrews' recovering voice. The film's music supervisor Dawn Soler recalled that Andrews "nailed the song on the first take. I looked around and I saw grips with tears in their eyes."

Andrews continued her association with Disney when she appeared as Nanny in two 2003 made-for-television movies based on the Eloise books, a series of children's books by Kay Thompson about a child who lives in the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Eloise at the Plaza premiered in April 2003, and Eloise at Christmastime was broadcast in November 2003. The same year, Andrews made her debut as a theatre director, directing a revival of The Boyfriend, the musical in which she made her Broadway debut, at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, New York. Her production, which featured costume and scenic design by her former husband Tony Walton, was remounted at the Goodspeed Opera House in 2005 and went on a national tour in 2006.

From 2005 to 2006, Andrews served as the Official Ambassador for Disneyland's 18 month-long, 50th anniversary celebration, the Happiest Homecoming on Earth", traveling to promote the celebration and recording narration or appearing at several events at the park.

In 2004, Andrews performed the voice of Queen Lillian in the animated blockbuster Shrek 2 (2004), reprising the role for its sequel, Shrek the Third (2007). Later in 2007, she narrated Enchanted, a live-action Disney musical comedy that paid homage to classic Disney films such as Mary Poppins.

In January 2007, she was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Screen Actors Guild's awards, and stated that her goals including continuing to direct for the stage, and possibly to produce her own Broadway musical. She will publish Home: A Memoir of My Early Years, which she characterized as "part one" of her autobiography, on April 1, 2008. Home will chronicle her early years in England's Music Hall circuit, and end with her winning the role of Mary Poppins.