Alarmingly soon after she bounds onto the stage in the blonde Sound of Music wig, Sarah-Louise Young asks audience members to share their “live” memories of Julie Andrews and I couldn’t resist mentioning the fact that in 1974 when I taught in an international school in Switzerland, I used to see her in the Co-Op.
Young asked me if she seemed “starry” or “special” but as this was Gstaad, even Julie Andrews didn’t stand out from the film-star crowd: in fact I could have gone on to say that the first time I heard the “C” word was when I slipped the school minibus into a parking space David Niven had his eye on…but this is an hilarious and irreverently anecdotal biography, not a chat show.
As she explains, no one sings quite like Julie Andrews but in the snatches and exerpts from the oeuvre, Young comes pretty close to climbing ev’ry marcatissimo in the alleged four-octave range, although obsessives on the internet claim Dame Julie only ever recorded three of them
Obviously the twin peaks of the performance are stories and excerpts from Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music but Young tells the whole life story from the extraordinary early operatic recording of a 12-year-old in pigtails, and doesn’t shrink from the darker issues like her abusive father, manipulative partners and ice-queen reputation.
The whole event comes over as massively good-hearted, almost a celebration of a star who seems acclaimed as a British “national treasure” despite being almost equally domiciled in the United States and Switzerland. You could never imagine anyone daring to launch a Gary Barlow-style enquiry into her tax affairs. Young gives us tuneful snippets of The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, Thoroughly Modern Millie and a sensational impersonation of Liza Minelli standing in for her in Victor/Victoria all the while keeping up an arch and sardonic banter with her relentlessly excellent pianist and co-conspirator Michael Roulston.
In barely a week, Dame Julie herself flies in for a swift and lucrative tour of the UK in which she is almost a sellout but the scalpers’ premium is smaller than you might think for a star of her magnitude – you can get good front stalls at the Apollo Hammersmith for £85. They claim what’s on offer is “guaranteed to delight audiences again with her effortless elegance and witty conversation”. Which is not really what she’s known and loved for and is tantamount to Red Rum making a good lasagne.
I’d rather pay far less and see Young’s living, breathing, singing, wisecracking facsimile. And so would most of her audience who enthusiastically join in with a final singalong to the back catalogue – as Young says, “the lyrics are in your DNA”.
She folds a lovely evening with a confession that after touring the show for a year or so and saving enough for the trip, she made the pilgrimage to Salzburg to go on its famous “Sound of Music Tour”. She didn’t invite further audience contributions at this point or I could have told her I’d actually stayed in the von Trapp villa. With a thunderstorm in the night.
Maybe next time.
Julie, Madly, Deeply. Performed by Sarah-Louise Young and Michael Roulston. St James’s Studio, London SW1. Tuesday 13 May at 8pm.