Currently rounding out her seventh decade in show business, Dame Julie Andrews has been recognized with just about every possible award and honor for her many triumphs across the gamut of entertainment arenas. She began as the bonnie lass with a four-octave range on the London stage, moving on to major Broadway stardom and then Hollywood fame as the English ingénue with the pure voice and refreshing demeanor. Her second act in Hollywood as a sophisticated star of 70s and 80s followed, prior to her status as everyone's favorite regal grandmother in "The Princess Diaries" movies. Julie Andrews is about as brilliant and beloved as any performer in history, and there are few voices as instantly recognizable hers.
Click through to read my selections for the Essential Julie Andrews on Disc.
"The Sound of Music" – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1965)
"The Sound of Music" was such an international, award-winning blockbuster and became such a family-friendly holiday musical television broadcast that many people disparage it as being cheesy or saccharine, which isn't really fair. These comments are particularly inappropriate for Julie Andrews's performance as Maria, which, besides being sung with her singular golden clarity, has the spark of bite to make it always interesting and, at times, even edgy. The soundtrack is endlessly listenable for her glorious gifts.
My Fair Lady – Original Broadway Cast Recording (1956)
One of the biggest hits in Broadway history, My Fair Lady is a classic musical theatre score of the highest order. Frederick Loewe's music and Alan Jay Lerner's lyrics are as vibrant and soaring and smart today as they were over half a century ago. Listening to Julie Andrews on the Original Broadway Cast Recording, it's clear why the show has been so difficult to revive well. She is simply irreplaceable. Andrews is an actress and comedian of immense skill and presence with a voice that is as expressive and versatile as it is rangy and beautiful. Stars of her caliber are few and far between.
"Mary Poppins" – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1964)
Julie Andrews won an Academy Award for her performance in "Mary Poppins" — beating out Audrey Hepburn's "My Fair Lady" film performance in a delicious bit of poetic justice. This is another Andrews performance for the ages. Children and adults of every generation will find her zesty performance impossible to resist, particularly on the soundtrack where she dazzles in song after song.
Camelot – Original Broadway Cast Recording (1960)
Lerner and Loewe's follow-up to My Fair Lady also starred Andrews, and if Camelot is a lesser show than their previous effort, it still entered the canon for posterity as a classic. Moreover, the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Camelot preserves the treasure of Julie Andrews as Guinevere. She brings her customary sheen and depth to the ballads and the title song and her rendition of "The Lusty Month of May" remains the single best cardio jam for the beginning of spring 50 years running.
"Cinderella" – Original Television Soundtrack (1957)
Before The Sound of Music, Broadway titans Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II had already taken note of Julie Andrews and wrote their original television musical "Cinderella" as a vehicle for her. It's a testament to both Rodgers and Hammerstein's talents as well as Andrews' range that the role has translated so well for such a wide range of performers over the years in the various incarnations of Cinderella including Lesley Ann Warren, Brandy, Deborah Gibson, Laura Osnes and Broadway's current "Ella," Keke Palmer.
"Victor/Victoria" Film Soundtrack – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1982)
Julie Andrews' husband, the late great film director, Blake Edwards, created a mid-career milestone for Andrews as the gender-bending Victoria Grant, a woman who pretends to be a drag queen in order to work as a performer. This provided Andrews an opportunity to shine as an actor (and actress!) and the show-within-a-movie aspect opened up the chance for a number of musical performances. The original songs by Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse made the most of Andrews being at the peak of her powers, and the movie soundtrack is well worth a listen.
"Broadway's Fair Julie" – 1961 Solo Album
On the heels of solidifying her Broadway stardom in Camelot and about to break into the movies, Julie Andrews was ripe for a recording career when Columbia Records gave her this handsome 1961 solo album production. Singing sumptuous arrangements of Broadway standards, Andrews proves once again to be in a class by herself. Particularly noteworthy are her recordings of "I Feel Pretty" and "If Love Were All," which reveal new qualities in these tried and true numbers.
"Heartrending Ballads And Raucous Ditties" – 1962 Solo Album
Julie Andrews' next solo album after "Broadway's Fair Julie" was something more unique and surprising, although arguably a natural choice for Andrews: turn-of-the-century vaudeville and music hall material. These songs take her back to her musical roots performing in England, and she brings a joyous bite along with her luscious voice to every tune.
If you can squeeze some more music into your playlist, honorable mention must go out to some more of her the cast recording of her Broadway debut in The Boy Friend and a few more of her film soundtracks, "Thoroughly Modern Millie" and "Darling Lili." For later-period Andrews, I'm partial to her early 1990s recordings of The King and I and her return to the musical stage in Sondheim's Putting It Together. Finally, there's nothing quite like the friendly fun of Julie and her gal pal Carol Burnett making music together in "Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall."
(Ben Rimalower is the author and original star of the critically acclaimed Patti Issues, currently on a worldwide tour. His new solo play, Bad with Money, performs through Feb. 27, 2015, at The Duplex in NYC. Read Playbill's coverage of the show here. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)