NEW YORK—One thing writer and performer Sarah-Louise Young makes clear at the outset of her show “Julie Madly Deeply” is that she is not Julie Andrews, though she is clearly an unabashed fan of the legendary star and doesn’t care if the whole world knows it.
Mixing song, dance, anecdotes, and audience participation, Young has fashioned a salute to Ms. Andrews’s decades-long career, while at the same time showing what the star means to her personally. The show is currently running at 59E59 Theaters as part of their annual Brits Off Broadway Festival.
Taking place in a cabaret-style setting and going in, more or less, chronological order, “Julie Madly Deeply” traces the life and career of Andrews from her early years in Great Britain to her Broadway triumphs of “The Boy Friend,” “My Fair Lady,” and “Camelot,” and to her subsequent film success in “Mary Poppins,” “The Sound of Music,” and beyond.
Young brackets the piece by reading aloud two heartfelt letters that she wrote to Andrews: one when she was a star-struck little girl; the other after being in the audience for a landmark 2010 concert Andrews gave in London.
Young has clearly done her homework, as shown with the theatrical information and bits of trivia she imparts. For example, director Moss Hart took Andrews in hand to help her prepare for the role of Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady.”
And, if Andrews missed a performance of “Victor/Victoria”—a show that marked her return to Broadway for the first time in 35 years—”there’d be a riot at the box office.” Having had tickets to a performance of that show on a night Ms. Andrews was unable to perform, I can personally attest to Young’s accuracy.
A vital part of the show is the connection that Young works to establish with her audience. She asks various questions, such as who among those present has never seen “The Sound of Music”—one person hadn’t the night I saw the show—and who has had the good fortune to see Andrews live on stage.
Young notes that once you’ve heard the lyrics to some of the songs Andrews made famous, they become part of your DNA, and Young invites audience members to join her in singing some of them.
Young also recalls the time she went to Salzburg, Austria, took the “Sound of Music” tour, and then led her fellow tourists in a “Sound of Music” sing-a-long.
While Young states that “there is so much more to Andrews than spinning in the Alps, [and] flying over rooftops,” these are precisely what most people think about when Julie Andrews comes to mind.
That said, it’s an irony that the structure of “Julie Madly Deeply” itself covers much of Andrews’s post-“Sound of Music” career in a quick montage of name-dropping without really delving into those works. And so Young’s show opens a window on the flip side of success. It shows how, when someone creates one or more indelible roles, they will forever be associated with them in the minds of the public—no matter what else they may do or accomplish.
Young does address some darker elements connected with Andrews’s personal and professional life, and does so with a bit of pointed satire, but she never takes the audience completely out of their comfort zone. Thus she shows us, through the commentary of a racing announcer, some of the turmoil Andrews faced growing up. And she demonstrates Andrews’s feelings for the British press via the sometimes inane questions they ask. These questions show the habit of treating interviewees as little more than commodities.
In a role that calls for part actress, part singer, and part host, Young is able to convey an infectious amiability and an unbridled awe in what Andrews has accomplished in her career.
As an excellent singer, Young manages a very good vocal impersonation of Andrews at points. (She also does a good impression of Liza Minnelli and Audrey Hepburn—who both figured significantly in Ms. Andrews’s career.) Young is also a rather good comedic dancer.
Music director Michael Roulston proves himself to be a perfect foil for Young. He drops in comments when necessary, while accompanying her expertly on the piano throughout.
Director Russell Lucas has staged everything with a rather loose feel. He lets Young take the lead as she relates her story, but never allows any one moment to linger too long or fall more than a moment into parody.
Also quite good is the costume-design work by Anna Braithwaite, especially the rather whimsical “Sound of Music”-related outfit that Young wears to start Act 2.
An enjoyable, if not all that deep, piece about a show-business legend and someone on whom that legend made a lasting impression, “Julie Madly Deeply” ultimately reveals more about Young than it does about Andrews. Which may have actually been the point all along.
‘Julie Madly Deeply’
59 East 59th St.
Tickets: 646-892-7999 or 59e59.org
Running Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes (one intermission)
Closes: June 30
Judd Hollander is a reviewer for Stagebuzz.com and a member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org