Dame Julie Andrews returned to a London stage for the first time in 30 years on Saturday night (8 May 2010), bringing her one-off show The Gift of Music: An Evening with Julie Andrews to the O2 Arena.
The 74-year-old Oscar winner was joined by an ensemble of five
other singers and backed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra for a concert that featured songs from her stage and screen hits (which include The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady) and readings from her recent children's book Simeon’s Gift.
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com - “Julie Andrews found her voice, or part of it, in a drably disappointing concert at the O2 Arena on Saturday night ... She is a great whopping star, no question. But she hardly earned her corn in a concert of grim kow-towing to Rodgers and Hammerstein (yes, we know they’re great; get over it) and shameless plugging of a dreadful children’s story she’s written with her daughter. Sure, she exploited her severely limited mezzo range to good effect in Rodgers and Hart’s 'My Funny Valentine', and 'Do-Re-Mi' was a gas with the audience clapping along. But honestly, if I’d paid for my ticket I would have asked for a refund … Even die-hard fans were trickling away during the terrible second half, a concert performance of the Simeon’s Gift book, a banal fable pumped up with a turgid score played with laughable conviction by the London Philharmonic ... This was my first visit to the O2. Isn’t it absolutely ghastly?”
Paul Clements in the Telegraph - “British audiences can be cruel to a comeback queen, even one who’s not enjoyed the best of health … Only the hardest hearted will be seeking a refund after Dame Julie Andrews’ first stage performance in more than a dozen years. But many will have been left wanting one … somebody should have stopped her from trying … Since the botched operation ruined her voice, she limits herself to a ‘kind of speak singing’ … With her sweet soprano now reduced to a single, smoky octave, she mostly plays compère to her grinning backing singers. Watching her perched on a stool in a spotlight while others sing her songs, is heartbreaking … A theatrically tragic spectacle, all told … This is no way to treat a national treasure, and especially not a Dame.”
Stephen Dalton in The Times - “Andrews demonstrated that her idea of entertainment has barely moved on since she became the youngest solo performer to play a Royal Variety Performance, in 1948 … Although she has lost her former four-octave range, the star joked at the O2 that she can still ‘sing the hell out of Old Man River’. She did not, sadly. In fact, she barely sang at all … this was a comeback show that featured not much coming back ... Parts of it were unintentionally funny…But ultimately it became an excruciating bore, which drove a steady exodus of disappointed punters from the arena … The flaws in this one-off concert were less to do with voice problems than with stodgy, staid, dated presentation. A few more spoonfuls of sugar might have helped this thin, sour medicine go down.”
Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian (two stars) - “This cheesy, sedate evening did have about it a whiff of Jarlsberg and formaldehyde … The Andrews singing voice is well known to be not what it was, after botched surgery in the 1990s; fragile and a little abraded, it now occupies a lower alto range, which, to my ear, had more emotional resonance, bearing the signs of a life lived … Again and again, after some scripted chat that had the unmistakably Andrews-ish regal formality, she just wheeled on her five support singers and let them get on with it, while she sang very little or just beamed supportively … Andrews's solo numbers were great … Her physical presence triggered palpable waves of affection and nostalgia, and her legendary status pretty well filled the colossal space on its own, but this was a creaky evening.”
Paul Callan in the Express (two stars) - “You have to hand it to Dame Julie Andrews. Like the old-style show business trouper she is, one of the nation’s most talented exports to Broadway and Hollywood manifestly believes that her show must go on … The trouble is her voice has not gone with her. Her famous and beautiful four-octave voice was silenced and there seemed to be no hope. Eventually some of it returned – mostly in the lower register. As she jokily explained onstage: ‘The gift has been given back to me’ … What followed was truly saddening … The evening proved that, even for great stars, there is a time to retire from the stage and leave us with golden memories.”
André Paine in the Evening Standard (two stars) - “Her carefully managed singing effort amounted to little more than 20 minutes over more than two hours. Andrews provided a conversational vocal during 'Getting To Know You' from The King and I, but much of the heavy lifting in this show was left to five younger Broadway performers … The ensemble rendition of 'Do-Re-Mi' was fun, although Andrews carefully avoided the high notes. The second half was a poor dramatic staging of a children’s book, with Andrews merely narrating the story she wrote with her daughter. At least she sang at the finale on a near-rousing 'A Cockeyed Optimist' from South Pacific and 'Edelweiss'. Andrews’ hunger to perform was certainly admirable, but the musical rations were nowhere near satisfying.”
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