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Andrews still an audience favorite

Surgery has silenced her singing, but the film and theater legend gives speeches and writes.

March 24, 2003|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

It's been nearly 40 years since baby boomers were first taken by their parents to see Julie Andrews play the perfect nanny in the classic Walt Disney film "Mary Poppins" and the exuberant novice nun turn perfect governess in "The Sound of Music."

Though baby boomers have grown up and are parents and even grandparents now, their childhood icon seems eternally young. Andrews has hardly changed since her days when she flew through London with her enormous umbrella in "Mary Poppins" or frolicked through the Alps in "The Sound of Music."

And at 67, Andrews is busy as ever doing movies and writing children's books. "I find it very stimulating," she said in a phone conversation. "I'm delighted that there is still a lot of interest."

On Sunday, she was part of the Oscar telecast in a reunion of Academy Award winners -- Andrews won the best actress Oscar for "Mary Poppins" in 1964 -- and tonight she will appear at the Orange County Performing Arts Center to discuss "A Few of Her Favorite Things" as part of its new "Up Close at the Center" series, a celebrity speaker's forum.

Andrews has often toured giving her one-woman speech. But she's so booked with projects this year, she has managed to squeeze in only the arts center performance and one other engagement this year.

Because her career spans five decades -- the British-born actress made her first professional appearance at age 12 in a musical revue -- her audiences range from grandparents to children. "I have the older people who remember 'The Sound of Music' and 'Mary Poppins' and children because of 'The Princess Diaries.' "

Andrews got her first big break in the U.S. on the Broadway stage, making her debut as the flapper Polly in the 1954 musical "The Boy Friend." She hit superstar status as Eliza Doolittle in the Lerner and Loewe classic "My Fair Lady" in 1956, then starred opposite Richard Burton and Robert Goulet in the team's next musical, "Camelot," in 1961.

She returned to Broadway in 1995 in the theatrical adaptation of her 1982 movie hit "Victor/Victoria." Andrews received Tony nominations for the last three roles.

She admits it can be daunting to appear in front of an audience just as herself. "It's always easier if you are hiding behind a role, but in fact I really do enjoy meeting people and I love answering their questions." One thing she won't be doing onstage is singing. Surgery five years ago to remove noncancerous nodes on her vocal cords damaged her throat, silencing her famous four-octave soprano singing voice.

Andrews says she has no trouble giving her speech. "I can do that pretty easily," she said. " "Mostly it's the actual singing voice that is hard to muster."

Andrews just completed two movies for ABC's "The Wonderful World of Disney" franchise based on Kay Thompson's beloved "Eloise" children's books -- "Eloise at the Plaza," due to air April 27, and "Eloise at Christmas," scheduled for the yuletide holidays.

In the films, she plays the rather top- and bottom-heavy nanny who looks after the precocious 6-year-old resident of the Plaza Hotel.

She's struggling through her autobiography, which was supposed to be released in July, but her series of children's books with daughter Emma Walton is going great. "We have a mandate of four to eight books a year, not necessarily ours singly or together, but also encouraging and finding new authors."

The actress finds working with her daughter, who was just a baby when "Mary Poppins" was released, to be a gratifying experience.

"We get together and work and brainstorm. It means not only total enjoyment -- we find that we work very well together -- but it is also wonderful quality time, which we wouldn't normally been able to have."

This summer, Andrews will be making her directorial debut at her daughter's theater in Sag Harbor, Long Island. She'll be directing a production of "The Boy Friend," the flapper musical that brought her to Broadway.

"I am scared to death, but I think it's going to be very stimulating," she said. "If I am going to be making my debut directing, it's a wonderful place to be because I'll be in good hands."

*

Julie Andrews

Where: Orange County Performing Arts Center, Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: Tonight at 8

Price: $29-$59

Contact: (714) 740-7878; (213) 365-3500

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