She ran the gantlet of several hundred waiting fans and passersby on New York’s West 45th Street in less than five seconds -- without so much as a smile, photo with fans, or autograph.
But inside Broadway’s Marquis Theatre nearly two hours earlier, it was an emotional scene as a very moved Julie Andrews was serenaded by her beloved cast, SRO audience, and special surprise guest -- Christopher Plummer, her co-star in The Sound of Music -- singing Rodgers & Hammerstein’s "Edelweiss" from the score of that film. The song, ostensibly about a small white Austrian flower, is an anthem to that nation:
Ev'ry morning you greet me
Small and white, clean and bright
You look happy to meet me..."
goes the lyric from that favorite song of Julie Andrews’ from The Sound of Music. But this was another show, 32 years after Andrews's glittering performance in that movie musical, a year after her Oscar-winning debut in Mary Poppins. She became not only a household name but also an entertainment industry icon.
Since ads had heavily promoted the Sunday, June 8, matinee of the Broadway musical V/V to be Andrews's last appearance as Victoria Grant, the role she created in Blake Edwards's 1984 film, a full house was expected. Her actual farewell came a week later than originally planned because of rehearsal difficulties involving her replacement, Racquel Welch, who is now scheduled to begin performances Tuesday, June 10. Audience members filed in with great anticipation and as they were given their Playbill, they were also handed a sheet headlined "So long, farewell..." which read: “At the end of the curtain call at today's performance the orchestra and company will bid farewell to Julie Andrews by serenading her with ‘Edelweiss.’ We invite you to participate in this fond farewell by singing along."
And they did, enthusiastically. But after giving Andrews a sustained standing ovation as she took her bow. She went down the front line of lead and feature players and warmly embraced and kissed each one. Then co- star Tony Roberts tried calming the audience. When he finally suceeded, he said, "Ladies and gentlemen, I've been asked to say a few words on behalf of this company which will be saying goodbye to our beloved Jules this afternoon. And I know I speak for everybody in this building who has had the great fortune to be a part of her family for the past two years that we will treasure these memories for the rest of our lives."
Roberts tooks Andrews by the hand and continued, "You make family wherever you go and we are all very priviledged to have spent two years in your presence. As a way of saying goodbye to you, we'd like to sing you one of your favorite songs."
Andrews, actively wiping the tears from her face, laughed. The orchestra, under original conductor Ian Fraser, struck the opening chords of "Edelweiss," but it took Andrews a second to recognize the tune. When she did, she was all smiles.
This was the talk of Broadway since late Saturday, but it may have been a well- kept secret from Andrews as she seemed genuinely stunned. En masse the company and audience sang, but as they got to the end of the last line, there was another surprise in store for Andrews.
Plummer, fresh from his Tony-winning performance in Barrymore, playing behind the Marquis at the Music Box Theatre, entered to huge applause wearing what appeared to be his Captain Von Trapp uniform from The Sound of Music movie and joined the chorus. At this point, Andrews needed a towel to wipe her tears.
The song continued to a finish of enthused applause. After a minute, Andrews stepped forward. Finally, you could you hear a pin drop.
"You don't think today was hard!" she began. "I want to introduce you to my wonderful extended family." She paid tribute to co-producers Tony Adams and John Scher, the Dutch "consortium" Endemol Theatre Productions, and Polygram BroadwayVentures. She went on to thank the press office and ad agency and, said Andrews, "the front of house staff who manned the fort so often. And I apologize deeply for the chaos I caused when I wasn't here." She thanked her backstage crew, wardrobe crew who helped her with the quick changes, the creative team, the house managers, company managers, even the "wonderful ushers who have done duty over and above the call of duty. I mean they've stuffed those Playb ills and they've helped us during the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS drives voluntarily and so generously."
Holding bouquets of flowers, including a huge arrangement of peonies from the production team and cast, Andrews dipped down for a special thank you to "the wonderful orchestra that I don't see very often but their wonderful sounds rise up and inspire." As she thanked the carpenters, electricians, and sound engineers, Andrews she included "wonderful Valerie (Spradling, the production sound engineer) who sits out there (at the mixing panel) and makes me sound better than I ever think I can."
Andrews continued, "It's going to be very hard to say goodbye. Especially to this marvelous company, whom I adore. It's been a priviledge to share the stage with them. I hope we do have the chance to work together soon. Thank you all for your support and love"
Fraser in the orchestra pit yells up to her, "Don't forget Blake!" (Edwards, Andrews’ husband and the director/librettist of the show.)
"What?" exclaimed Andrews. "Blake? No, no, I'm getting to that." Her comment got a good laugh from the audience. She continued to thank her personal assistants and daughters "and finally, of course, my darling Blake, who wrote the film, who wrote the book, who directed our show and made us all so happy."
Andrews brought Edwards forward and they kissed twice. Then he gave the spotlight back to her. "I hope I haven't forgotten anybody (in fact, she did!) and if I have, please forgive me. It's been too much today. We're all going to party now. I'm going to weep buckets but we're going to party and I'm going to have the first good brandy and soda I've had in a very long time. Thank you. Dearest company, I love you with all my heart and (to the audience) I love you. Good night and get home safe."
With that, the curtain was rung down on the legendary musical star's return to Broadway at age 60 in a performace that thrilled theatregoers. Even last year's Tony Awards nominating committee who singled Andrews out for a nomination for Best Actress in a Musical, but, as Andrews put it little over a year ago front and center on the same stage, "egregiously overlooked" the show in every other category -- including co-stars Tony Roberts, Michael Nouri, Gregory Jbara (who leaves the cast next Friday to sub for James Naughton in Chicago), and scene-stealer Rachel York (also now gone); choregrapher Rob Marshall; composers Henry Mancini and Frank Wildhorn (who supplied additional music after Mancini's death), and lyricist Leslie Bricusse. It was the latter three Andrews omitted in her farewell thanks.
Nearly two hours later, as she departed to her waiting black Chevy Tahoe for the ride to the private party the production was giving in her honor at the Bryant Park Grill, she said as she came down the backstage stairs, "Oh, no, I didn't. I couldn't have. I can't go back and do it now, but of course I thank them. Where would this show be without them?" Asked by Playbill On-Line if her reference to hoping to work with the cast again meant there was a tour or overseas production in the works, Andrews simply smiled and said, "Well, never say never!"
With that, she ran the gantlet of waiting, waiting, waiting and quite disapointed fans -- passed the sock vendor and the Asian woman in the white flowing dress waving her placard about the "666 mark" and judgement day -- and literally was driven off into the Times Square sunset.
-- By Ellis Nassour