In terms of show business Julie Andrews has pretty much done it all, conquering Broadway and concert stages, film, TV, recordings and even the children's book market with her inimitable mix of rare talent and charm. Yet, her current venture is one new to the beloved actress: co-creator and director of a brand-new musical, The Great American Mousical, now playing an extended engagement through Dec. 9 at Goodspeed Musicals' Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, CT.
The story of an acting troupe of mice rehearsing their own new musical began as a children's book penned by Academy Award winner Andrews and her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton, co-founder of the Bay Street Theatre.
Andrews, who had previously directed Goodspeed's production of The Boy Friend — one of her own early stage triumphs — told me earlier this week that the musical was born out of friendship. "Our little book had just come out about seven years ago," Andrews explained, "and we sent it — because we thought they'd enjoy the fun of it — to Michael Price and to Bob Alwine at Goodspeed. And, honestly, within a few days, we received a call back saying they loved the gift, and, to our surprise, they said they'd really love to develop it as a musical.
"It was very surprising because I had always, if anything, imagined that it would probably be something that might — with good fortune — go to animation, but I'd never thought of it as a live piece of musical theatre. And, I truly, at that time, couldn't imagine how that would be [realized with] the issues of perspective and the fact that there are mice on stage… But with Goodspeed's guidance, particularly Bob Alwine, he found us wonderful people, and we're thrilled with them!"
|photo by Diane Sobolewski|
Goodspeed's creative team includes composer Zina Goldrich and lyricist Marcy Heisler, the duo responsible for the Drama Desk-nominated Dear Edwina as well as the cabaret favorite "Taylor the Latte Boy"; librettist Hunter Bell, Tony-nominated for Best Book of a Musical for the meta-musical [title of show]; Tony-winning Newsies choreographer Christopher Gattelli; Oscar, Emmy and Tony-winning set and costume designer Tony Walton, who provided illustrations for the original children's book; lighting designer Richard Pilbrow; sound designer Jay Hilton; music supervisor Mary Mitchell Campbell; music director Adam Souza; and orchestrator Oran Eldor.
"We have a wonderful team, and they have just done my daughter and me proud — done the book proud — and created a really sweet, endearing, and quite witty, in the adult sense, musical," said Andrews, who has been involved every step of the way. "Obviously, Hunter made a first crack at [the book], but then after that, in terms of the music and the lyrics and the placing of songs, and what the book itself says and where it goes, we had many meetings. And, you know, this began about seven years ago, but about two years ago, we found the right mix, and it began to pull together."
The process of creating a musical, a new experience for the celebrated artist, has been a joyous one. "[It's] very, very new for me, and obviously, I tried to pull from everything I'd ever learned from the best people in the business. And, I am really thrilled with the results. It's, as I say, from being originally a children's book — sort of middle-grade children's book — this is now a fairly adult, witty musical, much along the lines that Annie would be considered adult."
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